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Columbia River High incident stirs concerns about safety


The unexpected occupation of a Columbia River High School classroom1 by a transient Wednesday prompted praise for school employees response but also raised questions about security at the 1,200-student school.

The transient followed a student through an unlocked exterior door and into her classroom Wednesday. The man ran out of the room about a minute later after security officers summoned by the teacher approached.

No students or staff were threatened, and the alleged intruder was arrested, but the incident prompted some parents to call the school to express their concern about safety, said Pat Nuzzo, spokeswoman for Vancouver Public Schools.

The district deployed additional security staff to the school Thursday morning as a precautionary measure, according to Nuzzo. She said school staff and law enforcement have reviewed safety protocols and routines as related to this incident.

Some parents have called the school since the incident yesterday, said Nuzzo.

One parent asked why we didn t go into a lockdown, but the suspect s whereabouts were always known. He left the campus when told to do so. In light of what happened, everybody feels it was handled well and had a good outcome.

We re grateful things turned out the way they did.

Security at many schools in Clark County was upgraded in the wake of school shootings across the United States. One upgrade was the creation of a single, secure point of access that is locked during school hours. But the design of the 54-year-old Columbia River High School makes such security measures impractical without major renovation or building replacement.

Nuzzo said the Vancouver district plans to put a bond before voters in the next year or so, dependent on the board s approval.

There s a long list of projects to address at every school, Nuzzo said.

I m not sure this is on the list yet, but it might become part of the list.

Design issues

Columbia River High School was built in 1962, and some classrooms at Columbia River can be accessed only through an exterior door. Those exterior classroom doors are likely going to remain unlocked for now.

Compounding the problem is the nature of high school education. Nuzzo said a number of students come and go from the campus during the day, attending Running Start classes at Clark College.

Others attend half-day at the Clark County Skills Center, and still others leave for internships and part-time jobs.

A lot of our schools have a locked door, and you have to be buzzed in, Nuzzo said. But the high schools have people coming and going all the time.

To make those exterior doors completely secure, they would have to be locked at all times, Nuzzo said.

To deal with security, a Clark County sheriff s deputy is stationed Monday through Friday at Columbia River. In addition, two district resource officers, who are unarmed security officers, are stationed at the school.

The district s other comprehensive high schools, Skyview, Hudson s Bay and Fort Vancouver, each have three district resource officers.

In addition, each of the high schools has a security resource officer, an armed officer employed by either Vancouver Police Department or the Clark County Sheriff s Office, Nuzzo said.

Other districts

Other school districts weighed in on their security measures Thursday afternoon.

Our policy is that all exterior doors are locked. Portables are locked as well, said Gail Spolar, spokeswoman for Evergreen Public Schools. Everyone is supposed to enter through the main office and be directed.

Outside doors are supposed to be locked. Over the summer, we ve installed new card readers for security access. We practice lockdown and lock-out drills.

In addition each of the Evergreen district s four comprehensive high schools has one security resource officer from either the Clark County Sheriff s Office or Vancouver Police Department.

In addition, each comprehensive high school has four district security resource officers.

The security team at Battle Ground Public Schools is always looking at new construction and modifications on older buildings on how we can make them safer, said Mike Kesler, the district s security supervisor. He added that the newest schools have card readers so that after the school day starts, all exterior doors are locked. They can only be opened electronically by a staff member with a security card.

He said that some of the older buildings do have doors that are unlocked, but visitors must walk either through or in front of the office and the watchful eye of staff and security staff stationed just inside the front door.

He added that all security officers have been issued bicycles to patrol the campuses.

They are trained to look for people who don t belong on campus, and they escort those people to the office to register as a visitor.

Washougal School District Superintendent Mike Stromme said, We have school resource officers and administrators out and about prior to the school day and throughout the school day.

Last year, Washougal voters approved a $57.7 million bond. Five of the projects using that money will be to upgrade the entrances at all schools in the district, Stromme said. Currently, all doors besides entrances are locked, and after the changes, entrances will be locked and visitors will be buzzed in and have to check in at the front office before heading through another locked door.

We are going to have construction at front entrances of all our schools in order to mitigate people coming into the building unwarranted, Stromme said.

It s possible (an intruder) at any school.

From what I heard, Columbia River High School acted appropriately and quickly, said Tyson Vogeler, superintendent at Green Mountain School District.

From 2007 to 2010, Vogeler was a program supervisor for Washington State School Safety Center with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

This year, Green Mountain switched to the ALICE Protocol, which is an enhanced lockdown protocol aligned with Department of Homeland Security s Run, Hide, Fight. ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Escape. He said a lockdown is not always enough, and sometimes locking down a school puts students in more danger.

Over the last seven or eight years, schools across Washington have taken great strides to make campuses safer, said Vogeler.

While these situations are troubling to parents, we have to remember that schools are statistically the safest places kids can be.


  1. ^ unexpected occupation of a Columbia River High School classroom (www.columbian.com)

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