Education

School resource officer incident, nearby shooting have Reynolds High community concerned about safety

By Elizabeth Miller (OPB)
Oct. 28, 2022 12:40 a.m.

A recent shooting near the school in east Multnomah County and an incident involving a student and a police officer have drawn criticism from Reynolds High students and parents.

At the Reynolds School Board meeting Wednesday evening, all of the public comment slots had been filled. That’s something that doesn’t happen often, said board chair Ana Gonzalez Muñoz.

But most of the attendees weren’t there to hear the board recognize a standout student or hear about enrollment. The room was full of parents and students there to talk about safety at Reynolds High School after two recent incidents.

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“This is amazing. It’s amazing and sad, the reasons why you’re all here, but it’s amazing that you’re here,” Gonzalez Muñoz said.

On Oct. 10, there was a shooting next to Reynolds High School, at Columbia Park. A 16-year-old student was responsible for the shooting, according to the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office. The student is in custody.

Speaking at Tuesday’s meeting, parent Michelle Bryant said the school did not share information after the shooting, and that school doors were unlocked, leaving students at risk.

“As a parent, I don’t feel like we were informed about what happened,” Bryant said, “and we were misled.”

Students at the school staged a walkout to protest the district’s actions, according to news reports.

Giving a report to the board, James Eriksen with the sheriff’s office said the office determined the school grounds were safe due to the presence of multiple officers. The shooting happened during lunchtime when some students were outside. Eriksen said the doors to the school remained unlocked “to allow students to seek safe shelter inside school.”

A couple of staff members referenced the 2014 Reynolds High School shooting that left one student dead and injured a teacher, asking the school board to push the district to do more.

Teacher Evan Selby took time during public comment to read off a list of unresolved safety issues at the school and throughout the district, including broken gates and an inconsistent ID badge policy.

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Students also showed up at the board meeting to highlight a recent incident involving a student and the Multnomah County Sheriff’s deputy stationed at Reynolds High School. The officer serves as the school resource officer under an agreement between the district and the sheriff’s office.

One student, Lorimay Henry, said a fight broke out between her sister and another student on Oct. 17. She said while breaking up the fight, the deputy pulled her sister, a 14-year-old freshman, by her hoodie and slammed her to the ground, and put his knees on her chest.

“She kept repeating, ‘Enough, enough, I can’t breathe,’ he still refused to get up,” Henry said.

Henry said her parents have not been able to view school camera video that may show the incident. That leaves a lot of questions unanswered for Henry’s mother.

“She doesn’t feel safe sending my sister back to school,” Henry said. “We all are feeling unsafe.”

The district did not respond to a request for comment about the allegations.

Statewide and nationally, having police officers in schools has been a topic of intense debate. It has prompted reviews of school resource officer programs and calls to remove or retain police in schools for safety reasons. In 2020, several Portland-area school districts ended contracts with police departments, citing the discomfort that the presence of law enforcement can cause for students of color and students in marginalized groups. Nationally, some school districts that removed officers in 2020 or 2021 have since brought them back.

Another Reynolds student, Marissa Tenry, also spoke about the school officers, connecting the lack of feeling safe at school with chronic absenteeism.

“Nobody feels safe to stay in school. They should have more counselors or violence prevention programs present at the school to actually talk, and even more, connect with students on that kind of level,” she said. “My demands are getting people who can actually relate to students, and not people who work with criminals to treat us as criminals.”

Students who started the group Students Against Oppression at Gresham High School have called for the immediate removal of the officer in Reynolds High School. The group’s actions prompted a review of the Gresham-Barlow school resource officer program, the results of which will be presented to the school board there next month.

Reynolds students and board members spoke of a meeting they had earlier this week to talk through concerns about school safety. Board members said they were open to listening and finding solutions while including community members and students.

Chair Gonzalez Muñoz shared a couple of suggestions mentioned in that meeting, from better communication and use of social media in emergency situations, to greater support from school and district administrators.

“Superintendents, staff that oversee the safety of schools, and even board members, should rush to the area to make sure students, staff, and parents are safe,” she said. “Don’t just hide behind your offices.”

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