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Community Response to Safety Concerns for Students

[Posted April 14, 2023; Updated April 15, 2023]

As reported by the Oregonian/OregonLive, a 13-year old Robert Gray Middle School student was stabbed following an attempted robbery by two older teens at Rieke Elementary on Friday, April 7. The attackers, ages 15 and 17, were arrested shortly after the incident and are in custody.

[Update: The original version of this article referred to social media posts purporting to know where the older teens attend school. No information regarding what school they attend has been released and these claims should not be regarded as accurate. The editor apologizes for the mistake.]

The 13-year-old student received a stab wound that punctured his kidney. Paramedics responded and the injured boy was transported to the hospital where he received stitches and was hospitalized for two nights. According the Oregonian, the student was at Rieke before attending batting practice at Wells. Many students of all ages witnessed the incident and word quickly spread among the community.

Social media responses have been as expected, from sharing of basic information and processing personal concerns and reactions, to gossip and philosophical arguments over the root causes of violence in our society and how to deal with it. Schools and at least one community group are focussing on responses that address immediate concerns and include concrete actions.

On Sunday, April 16, from 5:30-6:30m, Southwest Portland Martial Arts will host an adult discussion on "Kid Safety Concepts (Situational Awareness)" at their main gym, 1509 SW Sunset Blvd (entrance on Cheltenham St.)

Lara Jones is a teacher and co-owner of Southwest Portland Martial Arts, located in Hillsdale. Many of her martial arts students are kids in local schools. Says Jones, "This is a free community conversation (brainstorming session) on the topic of kid safety. From having facilitated community safety conversations in the past, I know that a lot of very productive problem-solving can happen when neighbors come together to brainstorm practical solutions and specific proven strategies to promote community and personal safety. It’s as simple as sharing good, positive ideas with one another…and creating functional communication plans!"

The event announcement is posted on Facebook or email for more information.

Following the incident, parents at Rieke, Gray, and Wells received emails from school principals notifying them of the incident and outlining plans to support students and address safety concerns, which continue to develop.

At Wells, Principal Filip Hristiç's email provided contact information for school counselors and invited students, families and staff to reach out to him or counseling staff.

Lisa Newlyn, Robert Gray's principal, said in her email: "Whether or not they witnessed this incident, many students may be impacted and concerned for the well-being of their peer." No classes were scheduled for Monday, April 10 (a previously planned teacher planning day), but Newlyn announced that members of Gray and PPS staff, as well as trained volunteers from Trauma Intervention Program NW, would be at the school for any student needing support.

The Robert Gray PTA followed up with an email announcing that the April 19th PTA meeting will be dedicated to a forum for RGMS parents to discuss how to move forward as a community to "create a sense of safety in our school and connected spaces."

Rieke principal Jon Jeans, in an email to parents, outlined ways staff might respond to the topic of the incident if it comes up in conversation in the classroom or among students. The response, he said, would address the basic facts of what happened, as well as that the injured student received medical care and is recovering well; that Rieke students were not involved; and that it was not an event where someone randomly came to campus to hurt people. Students will be reminded that they should tell an adult immediately if they see disturbing behavior by older students. Jeans also recommended that families discuss emergency plans with their Rieke students who may spend time on campus without adults.

The email also said that Portland Public Schools has agreed to provide improved evening security at Rieke. In a follow-up email to the Hillsdale News, he added that PPS will increase the security presence already at Wells to include more regular patrols of the Rieke site in the evening and that it has added layers of people who can be reached in case situations arise.

PPS provided this response to an email requesting details: "The attack on April 7th did not occur during school hours, nor at a school sponsored event. However, out of an abundance of caution, we have increased our security on our campuses in the affected areas. Additionally, PPS has requested an elevated presence by the Portland Police Bureau. At PPS, the health and safety of our students and staff is our foremost priority, and we will make every effort to ensure their safety."

—Valeurie Friedman


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