Around 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 14, 2022, a Jefferson High School student was struck in the shoulder by a bullet while in a car with another student. The drive-by shooting occurred near the intersection of North Killingsworth Street and North Haight Avenue, less than a mile from the school. The injured student was able to seek medical attention at a nearby hospital.
This shooting comes after shots were fired outside of Jefferson’s gym building on Oct. 18, 2022. Portland Police Bureau (PPB) officers were dispatched at 3:59 p.m., and upon arrival discovered a student inside the building who had a non-fatal gunshot wound to the leg. Another student may have been grazed in the hand, though police investigators are still trying to corroborate this. A typical Jefferson school day ends at 3:30 p.m., so both incidents occurred around dismissal.
On Oct. 19, 2022, PPB announced the discovery of a white Hyundai that crashed on Northeast Alberta Street between Northeast Vancouver Avenue and Northeast Williams Avenue. The stolen vehicle is believed to have been involved in the Oct. 18 shooting. The occupants fled the scene before police arrived, and investigations into all three incidents are still ongoing.
Classes were canceled on Oct. 19 due to these events, and the Jefferson administration is working to implement increased safety measures. The Oct. 21, 2022 Demo Family Memo, the Jefferson school newsletter, states that these measures include two additional Campus Safety Associates (CSA) to maintain a level of safety on campus, and making the Kerby Avenue doors the only end-of-day exits permitted. According to an updated attendance policy released Nov. 2, 2022, students may enter and exit through the Kerby or Commercial gates until 9 a.m. in the morning and 12:45 p.m. after lunch, respectively. Following 9 a.m. and 12:45 p.m., students must use the Kerby doors and will be required to show a student ID and sign into the main office to enter. Propping doors open in an effort to circumvent these rules will “result in disciplinary actions,” according to the new policy. Jefferson is looking for parent volunteers to supervise the Commercial and Kerby doors., which you can sign up to do at pps.net/volunteer.
The district has also made efforts to respond. Portland Public Schools (PPS) Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero sent a message to PPS families on Oct. 19 expressing the district’s empathy and explaining their work to support students and prevent similar events from happening. He states, “My heart goes out to not only the two students who suffered injuries, but to their families and the entire Jefferson High School community, whose sense of safety and stability is certainly shaken.” He provided a link to a support and resources page, which can be accessed at ppsfamilysupports.com. Additional mental health services, such as extra counseling, are being added in schools.
The implementation of extra support is not only in response to the incidents involving Jefferson students, but also to the overall rise of youth-related gun violence in America. As recently as Nov. 18, 2022, a 15-year old boy was shot and seriously injured in the Argay Terrace neighborhood in Portland. This violence is also present in schools, with Education Week reporting that 2022 represents a single-year high (since they began collecting data in 2018) of school shootings in America that resulted in injury or death. They state that as of Nov. 22, 46 such shootings have occurred. While these incidents are not PPS specific, they reflect growing concerns from students, staff, and family members about violence involving PPS students.
Molly Romay, the senior director of security and emergency management at PPS, elaborates on the district’s preventative efforts. PPS is working to utilize more Violence Prevention Managers within school communities. Romay adds that they are also trying to “create robust partnerships for things for students to do.” For example, after-school programs so that students have safe environments to be in while school is not in session.
This is in combination with PPS recommending certain safety measures, although it’s up to individual schools’ administrations to implement them. According to Romay, these measures include “having single points of access into buildings [and] being able to monitor during arrival and dismissal.” In addition, most high schools have between three and four CSAs depending on the size of their student body, and more can be added as situations arise. CSAs conduct perimeter sweeps, check doors, are in the hallways during passing period and lunch, support on-campus athletic events, and as Romay puts it “wear many hats.” In her opinion, they are, most importantly, in charge of “building relationships with students.” The goal is for students to feel comfortable reporting unsafe situations.
Romay believes “safety is everyone’s responsibility,” and hopes that as PPS works to center student voices in discussions of gun violence, students will be more willing to report violence in order for PPS or PPB to implement the proper responses. She would also love “to see student advocacy at the city and county level,” believing change is needed in the larger narrative, and not just within PPS. She believes this could look like stricter gun control measures, which is something she says the district supports. She cites the PPS Board of Education’s unanimous vote in favor of updating the PPS Weapons Policy as an example. The update bans concealed firearms on PPS school campuses in addition to all others and was passed in June 2022. Overall, Romay states that the main question is “how do we collectively capture everybody’s voice [in discussions of gun violence]?” She believes this is “what’s going to be needed to drive true change.”