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Bend-La Pine Schools making progress in prevention of school shootings, but missing an important piece 

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Bend-La Pine Schools has taken swift and important action to help prevent school shootings in our district. However, it has yet to address the fact that the majority of guns used by children in school shootings come from homes in which guns are not securely stored. Clear and consistent messaging to parents about the importance of locking up firearms is a critical step to preventing a school shooting.

A report by John Woodrow Cox and Steven Rich published in the Wall Street Journal in August 2018 found that in school shootings committed by children since 1999, 80 percent of the guns used were taken from the child's own home or that of a relative or friend. In our country, 4.6 million children are living in homes with unlocked and loaded firearms. Access to firearms by children accounts for two out of three school shootings. These shooters are students coming to school with guns. Not strangers that can potentially be stopped through upgraded and secured school entrances that validate the safety of each visitor who enters a school.

Just as Bend-La Pine Schools protects all students by asking parents to vaccinate their children and keep sick kids home, the district must also communicate to parents the importance of securely storing their firearms.

Keeping kids safe from school shootings is multi-faceted. It involves increasing school security, addressing the mental health needs of students and community members, and preventing students from accessing guns. Bend-La Pine Schools has taken commendable strides in efforts to increase school security and mental health services. However, the District has yet to address students' access to firearms.

To improve school security, the District has promoted local safety resources during summer social media campaigns, increased law enforcement presence in schools and constructed secured lobbies in many of our schools. Through the bond measure passed in 2017, the District has been able to construct entryways in 12 schools. It is projected that all schools will have secure entryways by January 2020 at a total projected cost of $12 million. The entryways are open at the start and end of each school day for students to enter and exit the school freely. During the school day, visitors must go through one entrance where they are verified to enter and buzzed into the school.

In order to address mental health services, the District has added three new school therapists and increased staff training to help school personnel identify and address emotional issues that can affect students. A multi-disciplinary Student Threat Assessment Team has been organized to identify, evaluate and address potential threats or troubling behavior by students.

In December 2017, the District launched the First Step resource app which was pushed out to all student iPads in grades 6-12.

The District should be commended on improving school security and access to mental health services for students. However, they have yet to address a crucial element; students' access to guns in homes. One might argue that it's not the school's place to tell parents what to do in their own homes, but when it comes to the safety of all students, the District is obligated to address students' access to firearms.

By actively messaging the importance of securely storing guns and sharing the data supported correlation between easy access to guns in homes and an increased rate of gun deaths, parents can understand the safety risk that unsecured firearms pose for our students. More than 90 percent of school shootings are committed by current students. A clear and frequent messaging campaign directed at parents of Bend-La Pine students is a crucial element that needs to be implemented by our school district in order to prevent a school shooting.

Caroline Skidmore is a board member of the Bend-La Pine Gun Safety Coalition.

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