Children stroll through the walkways at the hilly campus of Winchester Elementary School. Meanwhile on the other side of a blue slatted fence, garbage is piled high and the residents are known drug users.
“What’s concerning the amount of activity on either side of the (campus). It’s actually alarming,” Roseburg Public Schools Superintendent Jared Cordon said. “We’re seeing responses (from law enforcement) but it’s not changing the overall behavior.”
It’s alarming, because the drug activity doesn’t always stick to its side of the fence. Sometimes, it spills over onto school property.
“It’s on the east and west sides where we have concerns about the activity,” Cordon said. “It’s suspicious, or just drug activity, and it sounds like the school can be used as a go-between for the two properties.”
Winchester Elementary School Principal Rick Snyder showed where a hole was cut into the fence, and the route he has seen people run and bike through campus. “It keeps getting compromised,” Snyder said about the fence. “You fix it, they cut it.”
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office responded about 10 times to properties surrounding Winchester Elementary in the past month, according to a crime map. Most of those were listed as suspicious, but there was also a narcotics and trespassing arrest.
Oregon State Police had a trooper parked near the school, which led to a number of arrests. Increased patrols by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office also led to arrests, which Snyder said led to decreased activity.
Snyder said the school went into lockdown once last school year when state troopers pursued three people through the campus.
Most times the campus is used as a shortcut and, by the time an unauthorized person is noticed on campus, they’re jumping over a fence or through the hole in the fence, and the activity is over.
“It happens so quickly that they are from here to there and gone that we don’t really lock down the campus because it’s just a shortcut for them,” Snyder said. “There hasn’t been anything where they’re coming and loitering, really.”
The school board and budget committee for Roseburg Public Schools determined that safety is a priority when creating the district’s budget for the school year. More than $150,000 was set aside to enhance student safety, not including the $300,000 for seismic rehabilitation support.
For Winchester Elementary School, that meant replacing the fence and putting slats in it to keep the activity out of the students’ view as much as possible.
Blue slats were added to another portion of the fence, but then a hole was cut in the portion of the fence where there were no slats just a few feet away.
“The current type of fence is easily breached. We came over and we patched it and they reopened it within a day,” said Tracy Grauf, the physical plant manager for Roseburg Public Schools. “What the slats do is it makes it difficult to cut. Here you can take bolt cutters and stick ‘em right in there and cut your way through, with these you come up against that slat and you can’t pull them out because they’re stapled. It actually deters cutting holes in it.”
The school district will be replacing about 90 feet of chain-link fence on the west side and plans to build a new 125-foot-long fence on the east side in an attempt to curb the unwanted activity on campus. Other campuses are also scheduled to receive additional fencing to make the schools more secure.
Security cameras will also be added and are expected to be installed by the end of the calendar year.
“Cameras were something for that specific location that was intended to specifically address some of the issues we’re having on both sides of the fence,” Cordon said. “This is a significant and very real concern.”
Safety measures included in the district’s budget include safety training, supplies and communications, as well as security cameras and a physical barrier at the high school entrance.
This means cameras will be installed at five of the eight elementary schools, and plans are being drawn up for additional security cameras at both middle schools and the high school.
“It’s an improvement, but it can’t be the solution,” Cordon said. “We’ll need to continue working with the county on this.”
BUDGET CUTS HAMPER DCSO
Budget cuts at the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office have made it impossible for deputies to be at each school, or even each district, throughout the day.
“We do not have any school resource officers at this time,” Douglas County Sheriff’s Office Undersheriff Jeff Frieze said. “We barely have enough staff to cover what comes in every day out on the street with the general public. We don’t have the staff to put in the schools.”
The sheriff’s office does assign a patrol sergeant to each district throughout the county, who will make arrangements for in-school trainings and walk-throughs.
“We try to work with them as much as we possibly can, but with the staffing levels and time it’s difficult to get out to these school districts on a regular basis,” Frieze said. “Most of the schools within city limits, they work closely with their police departments and we just mainly deal with the schools that are out in the county area.”
Roseburg High School has one full-time school resource officer in Roseburg Police Department Officer Tyler Vancil, while another full-time school resource officer from the Roseburg Police Department serves the high school one day per week and splits his remaining time between the two middle schools.
Glide School District also has a school resource officer contracted with the Roseburg Police Department, a district representative said.
Sutherlin Police Department also has a school resource officer available, but the Myrtle Creek Police Department does not. Winston Police Department did not return a phone call by The News-Review.
Oregon legislators created the Oregon Task Force on School Safety in 2014 to strengthen safety in Oregon Schools.
The task force helped create SafeOregon, a statewide tip line where students and parents can anonymously report threats to student safety.
Lily Brown, a Roseburg High School sophomore, is the student representative for SafeOregon. She educates people about the tip line at community events, such as the Douglas County Safety Day, statewide events, such as the Oregon State Fair, and interacts directly with students at high schools throughout the state.
“When I was in seventh grade, I was bullied and I didn’t have a way to report it,” Brown said. “I told school counselors but the bullying continued for the rest of the year.”
Through SafeOregon, students can make anonymous reports and even send photo, audio or video proof. The organization filters through the reports and school officials or law enforcement are contacted. When events are reported to the schools the school has to follow a checklist and confirm they did something, law enforcement is only contacted in the worst cases.
All schools in the Roseburg school district are a part of SafeOregon. Roseburg High School student identification cards even have SafeOregon information printed on the back.
Brown said students have been called snitches because they have the app on their phone, but she advises them to create a folder on their phones and place the app there.
SCHOOLS ON THE SAME PAGE
Between June 2018 and June 2019, the organization received 2,397 tips and served 532,284 students.
Oregon Task Force on School Safety also worked to make sure that the same terminology is used as each school when it comes to emergencies and emergency drills.
“All schools participate in regular training and drill,” Cordon said. “These drills require lead-up and follow-up training. There is a layer of student safety training required annually for staff, mostly focused on the signs of child abuse and child protection.”
Brown said the high school had a lockdown drill last week, but it doesn’t make her feel safer. “It makes us more scared,” Brown said.
Instead, she’d argue that using a tip line such as SafeOregon would be a better preventative measure.
“If you see something suspicious report it,” she said. “When you hear someone is even planning something, you might be stopping something serious.”
Public school safety is primarily a state and local responsibility, but there are federal programs and initiatives that can support efforts.
According to Congressional Research Service, a public policy research arm of the United States Congress, congressional interest in public school safety and security increased following multiple school shootings.
The National Center for Education Statistics published its report “Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2018” in April 2019 with the help of statistics from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the U.S. Department of Education.
Between 2000 and 2017 there were 37 active shooter incidents and elementary and secondary schools and 15 active shooter incidents at a post-secondary institution, according to the report. Although it notes that active shooter is a law enforcement term and due to its specific usage this is not a comprehensive overview of serious violence in educational settings.
During the same time span there were two school shootings in Douglas County; one at Roseburg High School on Feb. 23, 2006, the other at Umpqua Community College on Oct. 1, 2015.
The shooting at UCC left 10 people dead, including the shooter. There were additional eight peoplewho were wounded in the shooting.
In 2006, a freshman at Roseburg High School shot another student in the school’s courtyard. The student was wounded, but not killed.
“It’s scary to think if anything bad were to happen at any more of our schools,” Frieze said. “We don’t want that to ever happen, but time and money and staffing is always an issue.”
According to Everytown for Gun Safety, an advocacy group that advocates for gun control, there have been at least 69 incidents of gunfire on school grounds in the United States in 2019. This includes when a man in a custody dispute showed up to Cascade Middle School in Eugene with a gun and was fatally shot by police, and the time a dog was shot at Grant High School in Portland.
Key findings in the report by the National Center for Education Statistics include that the percentage of students under the age of 12 using heroin dropped from 1.4% in 1995 to 0.3% in 2017, this downward trend continued throughout high school.
“Typically fifth grade and under kids aren’t buying drugs, so this would not be a great market for them,” Snyder said. “But I suspect that people are going, or were going, to these houses to make deals. I couldn’t tell you if some of those people came here. I haven’t felt like our kids are targeted, our kids are just kind of here when they’re attempting to get from point A to point B.”
Roseburg Public Schools will start a series of quarterly Safety Partnership meetings, starting with a breakfast Oct. 4, where representatives from law enforcement, fire department, first responder agencies as well as hospital, media, public works, ambulance, and others will come together to increase coordination and strengthen relationships between the agencies.
“As we invest more in school safety, we want to make sure we’re having conversations around this system to support them,” Cordon said. “We’ve got protocols and training but it needs to be a coordinated effort.”