This year, the Helix School District has put school security as its top priority. Superintendent Brad Bixler has added electronic access doors to all campus buildings. The door access allows Bixler or Administrative Assistant Cindy Wood to quickly and remotely lock all the exterior doors in case of emergency. It also allows the superintendent to control when the doors are open and by whom. This ability to lock down the doors also links the school to an emergency call to let a responder know that the school is in need of assistance. In addition, the school will be practicing more security drills to make sure everyone is prepared for a worst-case scenario.
Though the small and remote school has a lower chance to have such an event occur compared to other places, district officials are leaving nothing to chance. “It's similar to your home, in terms of being able to lock a door. Even though no one comes to the door, knowing that there's a lock there and that you can lock it offers some peace of mind,” said Bixler.
Staff and students at the school have practiced fire drills and earthquake drills numerous times already this school year. This fall, the school will be practicing two additional types of drills pertaining to lockdown and lockout or shelter in place. According to the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal, students should be trained to move away from sight, be silent and maintain silence, and silence all cell phones.
Students are often not familiar with the terms associated with school safety, especially “lockdown” and “lockout.” A lockdown drill is when there is an intruder in the building, so teachers should lock their classroom doors, shut all the blinds and have their students huddle in adjacent to the door. A lockout drill is when a potential intruder is outside of the school. The school is “locking out” anyone outside who might be attempting to enter. In either situation, Bixler is confident in his teachers ability to care for their students. “I do think that in emergency situations, they (students) will take the lead of their teachers in terms of either staying in that space or moving to a safer space,” said Bixler.
Even though Bixler is confident that the school is prepared, some students think otherwise. Helix students should be confident that they are ready for any circumstance. Older students should theoretically know more about lockdown drills, due to their many years of practice–though some do not feel prepared. “If the high school hasn't done that, do you think the middle school or elementary school has?” said Elliana Boatright, a junior at the Helix School District.
According to the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal, schools should have a minimum of two lockdown drills per year. Some students do not remember recent drills and believe that it has been at least three years since the Helix School District has had a lockdown drill. “I remember, in 5th grade we had one (lockdown drill) and our teacher wasn't even there and everyone was really loud and the door was wide open,” said Boatright
Lockdown drills can save lives, but too many lockdown drills can have an effect on student’s mental health, and lockdowns may produce anxiety and stress. “ If there are too many, they (students) are going to think, well why do we keep learning about this? Why do we keep talking about this? Is it gonna happen? It will obviously freak them out,” said Boatright.
School intruders are becoming more and more common. It is the school district’s responsibility to make sure that all students are safe and ready in case of any emergency. Officials must walk the fine line between preparedness and an over-emphasis on a scenario that may never happen.