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Drilling for safety

WL-WV schools practice lock-in and lockout drills to boost emergency preparedness


The notices have been going out to parents from school principals throughout the district with regularity but little fanfare over the past weeks.

“Today our school practiced a lockdown drill for the purpose of reviewing and practicing routines for securing our school in case it was ever necessary to do so,” Stafford Principal Jen Freeborn wrote in a Nov. 13 email to parents.

The matter-of-fact tone is deliberate, as the school district works to prepare students to respond to emergency situations that could include a fire, an earthquake, an emergency near the school or the presence of a specific threat on campus.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Students at Lowrie Primary School stand outside during a fire drill that was combined with a lockdown drill.“Our goal is to minimize the disruption to children’s learning and avoid creating undue concern, while simultaneously providing practice for staff and students,” Lowrie Principal Patrick Meigs wrote to families.

It’s part of a district-wide focus on safety that is a necessary part of the school routine these days, when the remote but ever present possibility of school violence requires students to learn safety practices that go beyond the “duck and cover” drills their parents’ generation experienced.

WoodleyThe school district’s director of operations, Tim Woodley, said that “safety” used to refer primarily to employees’ on-the-job well-being. The school district’s safety committee initially was formed because of an Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirement. Today, safety considerations have expanded, with the new drills being the latest measure.

“It threads through every movement of every department,” Woodley said.

Many of the district’s safety policies are crafted according to guidelines passed down from the federal government to the state government and then to the school district. Examples include identifying spots for students with special physical needs to gather during an emergency, creating safe routes to schools and establishing safe practices for parking lot behaviors.

Spencer-IiamsJennifer Spencer-Iiams, director of student services, oversees safety on a different but equally complex level. In conjunction with WL-WV nursing staff, Spencer-Iiam’s department considers issues like food allergies, communicable diseases, immunization compliance, child CPR certification and more. In addition to students’ physical health, she oversees emotional and mental health.

“On the front of everyone’s mind was, ‘How do we accomplish the kind of practicing we need to do without causing any kind of fear?’” Spencer-Iiams said. Communication about lock-in and lockout drills was deliberately crafted with age in mind.

Lock-in and lockout drills are relatively new to schools and were developed in part as a response to shootings that have occurred in schools as far away as Colorado and Connecticut, as well as nearby in Springfield, Ore.

During a lock-in drill, sometimes called a lockdown, students and teachers stay inside their classrooms. The classroom door is locked, blinds are drawn on all windows, the lights are turned off and students are instructed to stay out of sight until they are released from the drill.

During a lockout, the goal is to secure the school’s perimeter. No one is allowed to come in or out of the building. Students in the classroom might not notice any disruption.

Woodley compared the new drills to the routine fire drills that are regularly required by law.

“No child has been lost or hurt in a school fire for decades,” he said. “That’s the result of practice.”

Adding protocol to district practices would add familiarity and provide reassurance in the event of an emergency.

“The notion (is) that it’s serious but not scary,” Woodley said. “It helps us practice for that very rare thing that may happen.”

For Lowrie parent Chelsea Martin, the practice is a help.

“I can say that when I talked to my kids about the lock-down drill, they found it to be one of the more peaceful drills,” she said. “My kids loved that it is a silent drill. ... They found the fire drill more scary because of the loud alarm and everyone having to go outside.”

Practicing the drills in school has had a benefit at home, too, Martin said.

“My son did also come home talking about a girl who had told a story about a guy coming into a school with a gun,” Martin said. Her children were largely unaware of school violence, in part because Martin does not watch television news in front of them.

“The lock-down drill opens up the discussion amongst kids, and from my perspective this would give us an opportunity to talk with our kids about what is normal and what is not normal, what to report to adults,” she said.

That’s part of the reason for the drills, according to Woodley, who cited awareness, common language and risk assessment as school district goals.

“I don’t think there’s any place that attends to safety as well as schools do,” Spencer-Iiams said. “It can be difficult when one hears of a disturbing event somewhere in the country. Our schools are incredibly safe places, and that’s a result of intentionality. It’s always on our mind.”

Kate Hoots can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and at 503-636-1281, ext. 112. Follow her on Twitter @CommuniKater.




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