Safety Within Portland Public Schools

By Isabella Smejtek, Franklin High School’s The Franklin Post

During the 2018-2019 school year, there were numerous incidents within the Franklin High School community concerning shooting threats and physical violence on or near campus. 

Announcements that there was a threat written in bathroom stalls were frequent. Students during that time experienced feelings of anxiety and uncertainty around coming to school.

Returning to in-person school after being online for the last year has brought up memories of those feelings of anxiety, as well as questions regarding current safety precautions within Portland Public Schools (PPS). More specifically, at Franklin.

While health safety due to COVID-19 has been predominant since 2020, there remain numerous safety concerns that persist within schools, ranging from fights in the hallways to fires and earthquakes to shootings and threats thereof. 

Safety protocols regarding natural disasters are widely known within school buildings, as almost every student has evacuated their building and lined up outside on the field or street or has practiced what to do in the event of an earthquake. 

While these drills are regularly practiced, few students understand or have any knowledge of the protocol that activates when threats of violence or violence itself occurs. 

If a safety concern such as a shooting threat or an on-campus threat were to occur, the first people to respond are campus security guards. 

School security guards patrol the hallways daily, making sure students are getting to class on time, but more importantly, watching for signs of conflict and to be on-call in case of an emergency. 

If an emergency, threat of violence or other safety concern occurs, the main role of security guards is to control the situation. 

Franklin security guard Osa Esene touched on this, saying, “The first plan is to keep it under the table as much as possible… and obviously make sure everybody’s safe in the process…We attack the issue on a lower scale and then keep everybody safe.” 

This is something which was emphasized by Franklin Vice Principal Scott Burns. Similar to Esene, Burns discussed the importance of the protocols in place, especially in relation to severe safety threats, which contain the situation and try to resolve it internally as best they can. 

The district and Portland Police Bureau (PPB) are contacted only if the situation cannot be contained.

Security and administrators communicate with the district in the event of a written threat. Along with this, as lead security guard at Franklin, Esene communicates with the district daily to revise safety precautions and communicate about safety concerns. 

Franklin’s security guards are unarmed and they are encouraged to build rapport with students. Esene shared the reason he became a security guard to begin with. 

“I didn’t look at it as becoming a security guard, I was more interested in working with kids. You got to be flexible in the role of security, but also as a mentor, big brother, dad, uncle, best friend.” 

Esene extends his work at Franklin as the men’s varsity basketball coach as well.

Vice Principal Burns is the administrator overseeing safety, health and security in the building. He works with the emergency response team, which includes school security, regarding evacuation, emergency responses, lockout and lockdown plans. 

Although safety protocols cannot be discussed in detail for safety purposes, “It’s also important…to inform everybody about…those protocols,” Burns says. 

In the event of a lockdown, the entire district follows similar protocol: locks, lights and out of sight. This is conducted on a teacher by teacher basis, as every room requires different responses depending on its layout. 

While individual schools have immediate protocols they follow, the district also does preventative work to try to broadly limit the threat to the safety of students. 

Catherine Burkhardt, Security Specialist for PPS, runs volunteer background checks and monitors access control requests and emails. She is cross-trained in multiple security and operational roles, along with managing alarms and coordinating with first responders. 

Her role ensures the people who have access to a school building have cleared background checks and she stays updated on current safety issues occurring within the district.

In the event of a non-contained emergency, members of the PPB are contacted and first responders will be sent to the site to help manage and contain the situation. 

There is always room to improve, something which was acknowledged by everyone interviewed. 

Burkhardt noted in the last three years, PPS security services have doubled their number of office staff as well as employing more Campus Safety Associates, so there is now a broader security coverage than ever. 

Kaben Humphery-Butler (left) and Osa Esene (Right), two of Franklin High School’s on-site security guards. Photo by Isabella Smejtek

Safety Within Portland Public Schools

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