By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Schools build on existing safety plans

But area schools aren’t really doing much differently. They already had safety plans and procedures in place, and were already working closely with local law enforcement agencies, well before the recent mass shootings.

“We’re already secure,” said Charan Cline, superintendent of the Yamhill-Carlton School District. “Our people are well trained.

“Things can happen anywhere, but the odds are very low. And we’ve done a pretty good job of being ready.”

Like Cline, both Amity Superintendent Jeff Clark and McMinnville Superintendent Maryalice Russell said their staffs have reviewed emergency plans and will be continuing to do so. It’s more a matter of building on what already exists there than creating something new.

Twenty children and six adults were killed in the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. The tragedy sent shock waves across the nation.

Parents, youngsters and educators were especially on edge during the following week of school — a partial week for some Yamhill County districts and a full days for others, preceding winter break.

Locally, schools locked entrance doors and, in some cases, classroom doors as well. Police and sheriff’s deputies spent extra time patrolling near school buildings. Some after-school and evening activities were postponed or canceled. And in places where staff ID was optional before, it’s become mandatory.

Still, attendance dipped at some schools — possibly due to concerns over the shootings, or possibly related to holiday plans. And Facebook-fueled rumors were rampant, leading some students to worry about violence visiting their schools or, even, the world ending according to one interpretation of the Mayan calendar.

In the Y-C district, about 37 percent of students were absent Dec. 21, the Friday before winter break. The normal rate is about 6.5 percent.

“There was a lot of generalized fear and hysteria, none based in fact,” Cline said. “That’s hard to deal with.”

Yamhill-Carlton Elementary and Yamhill-Carlton Intermediate ran a security drill that day. Classroom doors and front doors were locked and administrators checked IDs of all visitors.

“We don’t think there’s a threat, but we’re just practicing ‘what if,’” Cline said.

At all the Y-C schools, outside doors can be locked quickly and easily with the flip of a switch, the superintendent said.

As at most schools in the county, front entrances are visible to office staff. And like other districts, Y-C works closely with local police agencies.

In addition to being aware of and prepared for possible danger,  Y-C personnel “work to make every child feel like they belong to our community,” Cline said. The more connected people feel, he said, the less likely they are to hurt one another.

Amity schools, like those in other districts,  regularly conduct drills so students and staff know what to do in an emergency — whether it’s a fire, earthquake or threat.

“No matter where you go in public, there’s a certain risk,” Clark said. “You have to know what you’re responsible for, what you’re supposed to do, and you have to depend on your fellow man to do the right thing.”

In light of recent events, Clark said, teachers will discuss how they can help students feel safe in school and out. School staff and local police plan to evaluate buildings for additional ways to improve safety. And the district will be working on its communication plans so it can make sure accurate information is distributed as quickly as possible.

The McMinnville School District will continue updating and improving the safety plans it already has in place, Russell said.

She said she met with both the McMinnville police chief and the Yamhill County sheriff during winter break to request the continuation of extra law enforcement presence around schools in McMinnville and Lafayette. As a result, officers have been making frequent visits to school buildings this week.

In addition to its regular safety training activities and reviews in staff meetings, the district is offering on-line training that teachers can take on their own if they want more information, the superintendent said.

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