On Jan. 7, 2023, during the PIL showcase basketball game, a vehicle pulled up near the Franklin High School (FHS) campus. Several rounds of bullets were then fired at a group of students. One youth was grazed, but medical attention was not accepted. The game was postponed. Portland police came and secured the area. Working alongside campus security, they were able to get everyone from the gym to a secure location. The culprit was apprehended, but the investigation is still ongoing.
This information was compiled from Principal Chris Frazier, a report sent out to the Franklin community, and what Molly Romay, the Senior Director for Security and Emergency Management for the district, was able to provide. Although little of Franklin’s community was present (the teams playing were Cleveland and Rosevelt), the incident was still a shock, especially as this was not the first shooting or threat at a Portland Public School (PPS) school this year. During the 2022-2023 school year alone, three shootings have taken place at PPS campuses, along with multiple bomb threats. The first shooting was at Jefferson High School. The second was just a seven minute drive from Franklin, at Cleveland High School. As the year progresses, this national issue has begun to feel closer and closer, causing students and staff alike to rethink their safety at school, and the procedures and precautions surrounding it.
Though neither Franklin’s administration, staff, or students were widely present at the most recent event, the location has forced Franklin further into these conversations and issues. The week following the incident though, there was a small response. School continued as normal, though an announcement was made with brief information and the acknowledgment that there were safe spaces if a student felt the need to talk. “Everyone pretended like it didn’t happen,” Clover McAvoy, a freshman at Franklin, explains in regard to how weird it was. They continued to say, “it was like, someone got shot and no one really cared.”
The main change students did notice was the introduction of signs at each entrance. Each states “No Weapons Allowed on District Property” with a short paragraph of rules included, written in multiple languages. The most significant was the specification that the rule included those with concealed handgun licenses. Pictured is a gun in the middle of a red circle being crossed out. Though the signs do make sense, the implantation of them raised a lot of questions. “Were firearms previously allowed on campus?” one student asked in a sarcastic tone, the obvious answer being no. Others asked who it was meant to successfully stop, or how it would. Ada Currey, a junior at Franklin, phrases it how many thought; “I think their response to a shooting being put up signs that say no firearms, is dumb. Do you think it’s going to stop anyone? I don’t. No one who’s attempting to shoot up a school it’s going to be like, oh, there’s a sign here. Nevermind.” The idea that this was the school’s only response made the update even more frustrating. Thankfully though, this wasn’t. It wasn’t one result of the shooting, but rather a pre-planned update sent from the PPS district. “In the spring, the board decided to update our weapons policy to be very specific about concealed handgun license carriers,” Romay states. “Firearms [of any kind] are not to be allowed on school property,” and the signage was meant to specify that. Putting up signs specifying this rule was required by law, meaning these signs were not an attempt to stop shooters, as many students assumed. Whether or not the timing at Franklin was due to the shooting is unknown, but the signs were not a direct response to the event, and are not specific to Franklin.
As for direct responses, Romay does speak more about what the district is doing. “We’ve looked at each incident in isolation,” she says, referring to all three shootings this year. “For Jefferson, there were some improvements … to slow down traffic [near the school,] … [and as] Jefferson has very few surveillance cameras … additional surveillance cameras [were added].” At Cleveland and Franklin though, modernized aspects like security cameras are already in place, and safety and security gates were getting installed around the Cleveland campus.
So rather than physical or policy updates, the district has focused more on their connections. As Romay explains, though the district does take safety very seriously, the problem seemed to be more of a city-wide, regional, and national issue, rather than just within the PPS district. This is why many students have not noticed changes; the district has focused more on strengthening partnerships and relationships than on technical solutions. “One of the things that we really focused on is strengthening our relationships with some of our partners at the city in the county,” Romay states. This meant strengthening their partnership with the Office of Violence Prevention, reimagining the district’s relationship with the Portland Police Bureau, and working closely with the juvenile justice system. As for internally, the district also brought on two Youth Violence Prevention Managers (managers who work directly with those impacted by gun violence from a prevention lens), increased Campus Safety Associates, and are investing in counselors and social workers. Though these steps don’t always feel direct to those not involved, the efforts are meant to be, as Romay states, a “collective way on how we address this.”
This response will hopefully be a good start to improve systems around this issue and be effectively preventative. Currey seems to hope this while saying, “I think the most important thing is mental health services,” adding, “students don’t go from being a completely normal student to shooting a school.” Hopefully, the connections, partnerships, and investments PPS is making will help this; as the issue is so large, prevention is sometimes one of the only things possible.
Re-evaluating and re-imaging Franklin’s policies was another prevention tactic taken. As Frazier states, “We took a serious look at our own protocols and procedures, specifically, with athletic events…We have drills that we do during the day, you know, evacuation drills … but this incident required us to look at our own safety protocols with regards to athletic events.” The new procedures included similar steps as they would during the day, but increased the availability of radios and “clear lines of communication.”
Shootings are not the only threats that PPS has faced this year. At Franklin alone, there have been three bomb threats sent through the Safe Oregon tip line. And according to Romay, other schools have had the same experiences. According to Frazier, standard procedures were followed for all three of the threats at Franklin, which in most cases is the increase of vigilance and situational awareness. Many students complained about how they were told the news of the threat. For the two threats that were directed specifically to Franklin, students were made aware after the school day had started that a threat had been made. The first, on Oct. 13, 2022, was announced at 11:05am via the Remind app, while students were already in school. The second, on Dec. 5, 2022, was announced at 12:28pm. And for the bomb threat that took place Dec. 8, 2022, regarding multiple schools around Portland, students were not told at all. Parents were sent an email and students learned of the threat through their secondary sources.
This raises many questions such as how much previous information the school’s administration was provided, but also, how much information students are being left out of. Were the tips sent during the school day, or is Safe Oregon not delivering important tips to schools at a fast rate? This is a whole other dilemma, but either way, delayed responses and lack of communication only increase the problems that surround this topic. That said, school and district administration must tread a difficult line as they work to find a balance between sharing too much information versus not enough.
One possible way to reduce this is an event where students, parents, and/or other members of the Franklin Community could speak and have a voice. Similar to one Cleveland held following the shooting there, Frazier has been working with the district to host a forum at Franklin. Using feedback collected from Cleveland’s forum, Franklin would hopefully host an event where Franklin’s community could meet and discuss these events, school safety, the possibility of School Resource Officers (SROs), and more with the superintendent. Though this is still in conversations, it would help create a better line of communication among all of those affected by these events.
Many students, including McAvoy, are all for this idea. “Right now they make it seem like it’s not a big deal. Kids are getting shot at school and it’s a really big deal and it’s depressing. But if [the school] doesn’t think it’s real or a big deal, then we won’t think it is. They need to show that they care … whether that’s through a conference or assembly or something.” A forum or event similar to this would show students that the school cares about all of Franklin’s community and their voices, rather than just saying they do.
Niki Ahtola, a senior at Franklin, agrees with this possibility. “[They] should talk more about it,” she says. “Especially for those like me…I don’t really know what’s happening. And the school is acting like nothing is happening.” Ahtola has a unique experience relating to this issue; she is a foreign exchange student from Norway, where guns, not being used for hunting, are illegal under all circumstances. Shootings are common in the US though; they are now treated like a normal event. It is so normalized that no one talks about it or explains what has happened or is happening, everyone just quickly moves on.
One anonymous student phrases it this way; “I feel like I should be scared but at the same time it’s so normal today that I feel that many students like myself have become accustomed to hearing/seeing shootings take place, especially around school.” With these events increasing more and more in the news it is terrifying how accustomed we have become to violence. The choices though are slim; either stay scared every time you go to school or become used to the news. Frazier’s response to this is: “it’s discouraging that it is seen as normalized.” He does encourage students and staff to do what is best for themselves and to join in the conversation and collaboration; after all, with social media, sometimes students are more aware than staff. “I would want our students, as difficult as these conversations may be, to join us, join me and the adults, in this body of work to help support our students and staff, to create the safest community possible,” says Frazier. This issue affects everyone, but nothing will be changed if events like these continue to be normalized, are not talked about, and no one works together to change them. Conversation and actions against these issues should be normalized; not the events themselves.