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Day: August 9, 2018

School security and safety

Safety and security in Salem-Keizer schools has been in the news recently due to a proposed police force for the schools. Due to public outcry that proposal has been pulled from consideration.

The safety of students is always in front of mind for parents who trust public schools to keep their children secure while being educated. That’s understandable due to the numerous shootings at schools across the country this year alone.

Responses to the proposed police force were swift and generally negative. Many felt a police force would focus on students of color or students from low-income households. One could conclude that that feeling is based on real-world experience. The security of students cuts both ways—they need to be safe from outside attacks and be safe from an overzealous police force.

A Survey Monkey survey was posted on Facebook recently. One question asked if the respondents supported additional school resource officers and/or armed security in our schools; the other question was what level of financial backing they would support, if any.  More than 400 responses had logged by the deadline, an overwhelming majority were Keizer residents.

The implied question is whether the public would support security posted at every school (presumably in Keizer) including the elementary schools. Keeping students safe at our elementary schools is as important as for those students at our middle and high schools. Our  newer schools were designed to make it impossible to enter the school without an employee buzzing a visitor in through the security door. That system is only as good as the training of the staff to never let their guard down.

A visitor does not have to ring a bell to be allowed into McNary High School. The office is 100 feet and the sightline to the main entrance is not clear. There are a number of entrances to all of our schools and it is not hard to imagine someone on the inside opening a side door.

Added security in all our schools would ease the minds of parents of students of any grade level. Before bloating budgets by adding security forces the school district should ensure that all staff is trained in threat recognition and procedures for allowing outsiders into the school building. Some of the money from the recently voted-passed school bond will go to reconfiguring some schools front offices for greater security.

The fear that a police force in the schools is not a positive move for students of color nor any student that is different cannot be discounted. We must be understanding of the experience of all our students.  We can make all students feel safe if we take the time to discover what would make them feel secure besides a locked front entrance.

Instead of a police force let us move toward an inclusive school system that values every student coupled with better oversight about who gets into our schools.


Foster kids need you to care


The foster care system is like the youth it governs: perceived as broken, but really just in need of love and support and better adults.

This is what I’ve learned over the past several weeks reporting on a series about foster care in Marion County. I’ve interviewed people within the Department of Human Services, current and former foster youth, foster parents, a senator who worked on care legislation, members of third-party agencies, and an advocacy group.

I’ve interviewed stakeholders at all different levels of the system, and their message for you, reader, is this: They need you to care. They need you to care about these young people and what happens to them.

I believe learning to care begins with looking into the eyes of individuals. It’s easy to read a headline about the foster care system and brush it off. What is that? That’s not a person—it’s a complex bureaucratic organism. There’s no life in that, there’s no humanity in that. So, we need to go deeper—don’t ask what is happening, but who is being affected? That’s a more interesting question. One of the most impactful conversations in my reporting was with a young woman who just aged out of foster care. Her name is Raven, and her story is the one I’d been anticipating and dreading since I began writing the series.

Raven was abused in her biological home. After being removed at 8 years old, she was abused in several foster homes. She moved around too many times to count. She ended up separated from her siblings. She struggled with depression, bulimia, anxiety. For a while, she was homeless.

There’s more to that story. But no amount of ink will ever make you understand how it feels to carry her pain. The point is: The system failed her.

But it didn’t break her.

Four years ago, Raven began working with Oregon Foster Youth Connection. She helped create, lobby, and pass the Foster Sibling Bill of Rights in 2017. Watching the governor sign that bill into law is “one of the proudest moments of my life aside from graduating high school,” she told me. She’s starting online classes at Chemeketa Community College in the fall with the intention of becoming an elementary school teacher. Initially, she just wanted to work with foster kids, but then she was hired to work for a YMCA summer program. And she realized she can be the better adult in any child’s life. “I want to make that impact with everybody and have a relationship with those kids, so they know that they are important,” she told me. “Because they are our next generation, so we have to raise them up and teach them well.”

Raise them up and teach them well. That’s what we need to do. And that’s not someone else’s responsibility, that is our responsibility as a community.

An Oregonian headline published on August 1 reads: “Oregon anger management counselor, son accused of abusing foster children.” The details are familiar. The abuse took place over a period of time, and the appropriate officials didn’t catch it until recently.

The comments from angry readers were predictable. Horrible monsters, how could this happen, the Department of Human Services (DHS)and Governor Brown fail children yet again.

The outrage is both understandable and necessary. But it’s not enough.

We see these headlines, pound out a caps-lock comment. And then we move on with our lives.

We can’t do that anymore. These kids need better, right now.

You don’t have to foster a child. But you can ask yourself: Can you be the better adult?

Yes. We all can.

Now, let’s do it.

(Casey Chaffin, a student at Soka University, is an intern at the Keizertimes.)