The Oregon Legislature is considering a bill that would require schools to electronically notify families and employees of safety threats.
House Bill 3584 requires school district boards to adopt policies for notifying parents, guardians and school employees when a school goes into lockdown, shelter-in-place or evacuates in response to a safety threat, and of the resolution, all within 24 hours.
“For some students, especially re-traumatized students, this is critical,” Dana Stroud, a parent in the Gresham-Barlow School District, told legislators. “We are limited in how we can support our children if the school does not give us adequate communication.”
Lack of information
Rep. Ricki Ruiz, D-Gresham, is a chief sponsor of the bill.
“Locking doors, slamming window blinds and asking students to be quiet and hide under desks. This isn’t a quote from George Orwell’s books. This is a reality for many students,” Ruiz said.
“This is not against any one school,” he said. “This is a safety-first policy. I do not want to wait for school districts to adopt this individually. We need this now.”
Portland resident Eric Chambers testified in support of the bill, sharing panicked text messages he received from his seventh-grade son earlier this year during a lockdown at Lane Middle School.
The boy, Jim Chambers, told lawmakers the Feb. 2 lockdown didn’t feel like a drill. His teachers seemed alarmed and he could hear doors slamming in the hall, he said.
“The fear I felt in that moment was like no other fear I’ve ever experienced,” Jim said.
“My son was visibly shaken when I picked him up. He didn’t know the cause of the lockdown, but said that the rumor was that high schoolers had gained access to the school with unknown motives,” Eric Chambers said. “While I knew he was scared, it wasn’t until we talked as a family that evening that I realized how profoundly terrified he was during the event.”
Wanting to help his son, Chambers emailed the school’s principal asking if the school would be sending a message to families letting them know what happened and how it was resolved. His email was ignored, and families never found out what happened.
“The event that caused the lockdown at my son’s school was probably much ado about nothing. Fortunately, most lockdowns are,” Chambers said. “I’d have done anything to be able to tell my son that shortly after the event so that he could go back to worrying about more typical 12-year-old things and not the threats of harm and violence that increasingly loom in our children’s minds.”
No one testified against the bill, which has bipartisan support in both legislative chambers.
Lockdowns and other emergency responses have become almost routine in local school districts.
Several other states, including Louisiana, Texas and Washington, require schools to notify parents in the event of an emergency. Oregon’s Beaverton School District has adopted a similar policy.
The Salem-Keizer Public Schools governing has not adopted an official policy regarding lockdown communications, spokesperson Aaron Harada said.
But the district does have procedures in place that are similar to the bill’s requirements, he said:
- Whenever a school goes into a lockdown, the district sends a notification to staff and families as soon as possible. “The first notice is often just a notice, as we are working to collect more accurate information about the reason for the lockdown,” he said.
- If there is any change to school operations (such as meal services, arrival or dismissal), then additional information and instructions are sent to staff and families.
- If there is a prolonged lockdown (many lockdowns are resolved within 30 minutes or so), then the district will send additional information or updates to families to provide as much information as possible.
- At the conclusion of a lockdown, the district sends a final message or update regarding the lockdown, which by that time may contain more context around the reason the school went into a lockdown. This letter may include additional details such as whether students needed to shelter in place during the lockdown, or it may mention counseling resources available for students the next day at school if the situation or incident warrants. There are situations where a school lockdown is shorter than five minutes. In those cases, families would only receive the final/conclusion letter.
“We know that a change in operations of a normal school day, whether big or small, can have an impact on students and it is important for our families to have awareness and context around school lockdowns,” Harada said.
What’s next for House Bill 3584?
The House passed the bill unanimously, with three members excused, in March.
It has been on the schedule for a Senate vote for more than two weeks, but has been postponed, along with dozens of other bills, as Republican senators have repeatedly denied the body a quorum.
Tracy Loew covers the environment at the Statesman Journal. Send comments, questions and tips firstname.lastname@example.org, 503-399-6779. Follow her on Twitter at@Tracy_Loew
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