District takes steps to improve student safety on campus

School may be out for the summer but workers are busy making a number of upgrades to Oak Harbor Public Schools, including safety improvements.

School may be out for the summer but workers are busy making a number of upgrades to Oak Harbor Public Schools, including safety improvements.

It’s a continual process with the district making big and small changes as the budget allows.

The security upgrades address issues such as lighting a darkened parking lot, keeping people off campus who don’t belong there and keeping kids safe in worst case scenarios.

“As close as we are to Marysville, you can’t not think about it,” said Brian Hunt, facilities director.

“We continue to do some proactive stuff,” Hunt said. “We’re fortunate we have a very good relationship with Oak Harbor police and fire.”

He’s referring to the school shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in 2014, when a 15-year-old freshman student shot five other students.

For the past several years, the Oak Harbor Fire and Police departments have worked with the district to conduct lock down and active shooter drills. The active shooter drills occur when class isn’t session, although the police recruited Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps students to play the role of victims.

In some school shootings, children have died because first responders weren’t able to get into the school to help in time, fire chief Ray Merrill said.

“The departments weren’t prepared or capable during an active shooting,” he said. “That’s not going to happen here.”

Paramedics and emergency technicians are prepared to respond wearing bullet-proof vests and Kevlar helmets, and they have a coordinated plan with the police, Merrill said. The fire department also has models of most of the schools, he said.

“The (district) is being very proactive to make sure staff and students are as safe as possible,” he said.

Other improvements deal with school campuses.

One of the most visible to people living in Capehart Housing is a fence surrounding the perimeter of Crescent Harbor Elementary. The school, built in the 1960s, sits in the middle of the military housing and it’s never been clear where the school district property ends, Hunt said.

“We don’t want to lock it up on weekends,” he said.

“People can still access it then.”

Next on his list is Broadview Elementary, and other schools may receive fencing in the future if needed, Hunt said.

The school also is the last to get a visible sign with the school name on the side of the building, which helps visitors and first responders in an emergency know they’re at the right place.

Crescent Harbor also is one of the last schools to get new LED lighting. The lighting uses a third of the energy of the old lights but puts off double the light. The lighting also is in place in parking lots, an improvement for teachers and custodians who walk to their cars on dark, winter nights.

The district also is systematically adding security cameras to schools. Oak Harbor High School, Oak Harbor Middle School and Hillcrest Elementary already have them. North Whidbey Middle School is getting some this fall.

The cameras already have been helpful, Hunt said. For instance, in March a man threatened Oak Harbor Middle School staff, and police were able to view the tapes from that morning, which helped identify the suspect.

While most school buses already have cameras inside, about a half dozen are also getting cameras that will catch drivers who don’t stop for school buses with the “stop” sign out, said Francis Bagarella, director of transportation. These cameras capture the license plates of drivers. The district put in the first two at the end of the school year and already six violations have been prosecuted, Bagarella said.

He hopes the cameras will encourage drivers to pay attention. Bus drivers with routes along Heller Road and Whidbey Avenue in particular encounter drivers who aren’t paying attention and ignore the “stop” sign. In one case, a driver passed a bus on the right, driving onto the sidewalk.

“Our big thing is children’s safety,” he said.