‘I’m One of the Lucky Ones’: Students Talk School Safety with State Leaders

In 2017, 107 young adults and children as young as 10 died by suicide in Oregon, making suicide the second leading cause of death for that age group. The more you drill down into the numbers, the more widespread and alarming the picture becomes. 

Half of LGBTQ youth said they had considered suicide in the most recent survey of Oregon teens, and a quarter of them had made at least one attempt. Nearly one in three of all eighth graders reported being bullied, and almost 10 percent had missed at least one day of school in the previous month because of safety concerns. More than 30 percent of students in the survey reported feeling “so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks in a row” that they had stopped doing some of their usual activities.

It was with these statistics in mind that Clackamas County students and law enforcement leaders held a press conference this week at the Oregon State Capitol to promote new legislation to fund the Oregon Safe to Learn Act and a new report by the Oregon Task Force on School Safety, which outlines recommendations to improve school safety statewide.

The event was hosted in the Governor’s Ceremonial Office on the second floor of the State Capitol Building, and Gov. Kate Brown shared her own thoughts about the importance of student advocacy on this crucial issue.

“I truly believe that when students are empowered to be a force for change, it puts us further down the path to making sure that our schools are safer and our communities are healthier,” Brown said.

Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts, who chairs the task force, was there, as were a number of local high school students, including Derek Evans, from Sandy, (pictured) and Hailey Hardcastle, from Sherwood.

The Oregon Task Force on School Safety has introduced bipartisan bills (SB 584 and HB 2327) that seek to fund the Oregon Safe to Learn Act. The legislation would establish a Statewide School Safety and Prevention System within the Oregon Department of Education, creating infrastructure to support all Oregon schools and Education Service Districts in three critical areas:

  • Bullying and harassment prevention
  • Youth suicide prevention and mental wellness
  • Multidisciplinary safety assessment teams

“Our students are struggling with significant challenges, such as bullying and harassment, suicide and self-harm and a variety of threats of violence – all of these in unacceptable numbers,” said Dr. Dave Novotney, Superintendent of the Willamette Education Service District and Co-Chair of the Oregon Task Force on School Safety. “Oregon schools need assistance to address these challenges in order to best support their students.”

If the legislation passes, it would allow for 15 specialists statewide who will work directly with school districts to provide training and technical assistance in the three critical areas.

The Oregon Task Force on School Safety 2019 Report to the Legislature is available here

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