The December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut sent waves of shock and horror through schools around the mid-valley.
Were students in danger here? Did schools have safeguards against rampaging gunman? How should buildings communicate in case of a threat?
Districts already on heightened alert from the shootings at Columbine and Thurston high schools more than a decade before swung into action to make safety upgrades to their buildings and policies.
Those projects are still going on, and have taken on greater significance following a mass shooting at a Florida high school Feb. 14.
In Albany, Maria Delapoer, then superintendent of Greater Albany Public Schools, responded to Sandy Hook by creating a school safety task force and commissioning safety audits for each building.
"We have been working on safety improvements for over five years now and continue to do so," said Russ Allen, the district's director of business. "Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent, and we continue to make progress."
In Corvallis, buildings took on what Assistant Superintendent Kevin Bogatin called a "layered" approach, combining prevention tactics with emergency preparedness, developing response protocol and even working out reunification procedures, such as if students have be evacuated during the school day.
"There is no one thing that we are doing or can do to create a safe learning environment, so it really is looking at all of these things," Bogatin said.
A rundown of some of the projects so far, and what's in the works:
- Both districts have adopted the Standard Response Protocol outlined by the I Love U Guys Foundation for lockout, lockdown, evacuation and shelter-in-place situations. The protocol, which has been coordinated with law enforcement agencies, is in use throughout the valley. Details can be found at http://iloveuguys.org/srp.html.
- LockBlok devices have been installed on all classroom doors in both districts. These small black frames, about the size of a playing card, allow a door to remain locked from the outside but still allow entry and exit. During an emergency, the door can be closed and remain locked quickly and without a key.
- In Albany, communication systems/intercoms have been replaced at 11 district schools, with work remaining to be done at Oak, Periwinkle, North Albany and Sunrise elementary schools, at Timber Ridge School and at West Albany High School and Albany Options School.
The systems ensure every classroom has two-way communication with the front office, and allows for a lockout/lockdown/shelter-in-place call to be made from every phone.
- In Corvallis, computer tablets in the front office at each school are used by visitors to sign in and out and indicate where in the building they will be.
- In Albany, additional fencing has been installed at Liberty, South Shore, Oak, North Albany, Fir Grove and Central elementary schools. Some of the schools are completely fenced and some just have reduced access points. Fencing is being planned at South Albany High School as part of bond work.
- Also in Albany, front entry cameras with "buzz-in" systems are in place at Central, Waverly, Liberty, Sunrise, Lafayette, North Albany, Oak, South Shore and Takena elementary schools. Periwinkle Elementary is on deck and South Albany High School is in the planning stage.
With such a system, front doors remain locked and visitors have to be "buzzed" in by an office employee. Cameras have been added at schools where the front office does not have a line of sight to the front door.
Corvallis has electronic external locks on all its elementary and middle schools. The district is seeking voter approval May 15 for a $200 million facilities improvement bond measure, which, if it passes, will including funding to redesign elementary school entrances to provide more security. Intercom and communications systems also are a part of the bond.
- Both districts have signed up to be a part of SafeOregon, the 24-hour statewide school safety tip line developed by Oregon State Police. It is available around the clock and can be reached by phone or text (844-472-3367), email (firstname.lastname@example.org), website (SafeOregon.com), or mobile app for Android and iOS phones. More information is available online at safeoregon.com.
The precautions are necessary, but put schools in the difficult position of balancing the need to maintain safety and put minds at ease while still creating a peaceful, happy, nurturing environment, Bogatin said.
"We are in a different era," he said. "I would call it a post-Columbine era of school safety where we’re always needing to be on somewhat of an alert."
Danger can hit close to home. Albany schools have confronted the potential for violence more than once in past years.
In 1992, five years before the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, Dan Jamison, then an assistant principal at South Albany High School, learned of an anonymous call about a troubled student who might be armed.
Jamison asked the 17-year-old to accompany him to his office, where the boy removed his trenchcoat to reveal two sawed-off rifles and a bayonet, as well as notes saying he planned to harm himself while at school. The boy surrendered quietly to police.
In 2013, officers arrested a North Albany 17-year-old after acting on a tip and finding six homemade bombs under the floorboards in the boy's bedroom, as well as detailed lists, timelines and plans to carry out an attack at West Albany High School.
In that case, a fellow student heard about the planned attack and shared his concerns with his mother, who contacted police.
"Part of what helps keep us safe is kids talking to us and kids talking to each other," Albany Superintendent Jim Golden said. "Usually, someone knows."
Corvallis — and, as recently as last week, Oregon State University — has also dealt with threats of violence.
"The conversation that needs to occur in our country, to me, is on the prevention side of things," Bogatin said. "How do we intervene to support kids who are struggling with trauma or mental health issues? We want to focus our attention there, intervene and make sure we're supporting our kids."
Schools should be places where everyone feels a sense of belonging and being cared about, he added. "To me, that’s where our focus should be."