Thousands raise voices for gun reform during March for Our Lives at Oregon Capitol


Story by Natalie Pate and Abby Luschei | Read the original at

More than 3,000 people — three times the anticipated crowd — marched from Oregon’s Capitol into the streets of downtown Salem Saturday morning, demanding stricter gun laws.

“Hey, hey, ho, ho — the NRA has got to go,” participants chanted. “No more silence; end gun violence.”

More than 840 March For Our Lives rallies were held across the United States and other countries, including marches in Portland and Corvallis. The demonstrations happened less than two weeks after the national school walkouts on March 14.

And Salem was a major hub for Oregonians to join.

“There cannot be two sides to our safety in school, where we should be learning, growing and making friends — not learning how to duck and cover,” Allison Hmura, a South Salem High School student and one of the event organizers, said in her speech.


The walkouts and marches were prompted by the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida that left 17 people dead. Students also plan to march on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine massacre, where 15 people died at Columbine High School in Colorado.

Participants called for lawmakers to ban assault weapons and increase background checks.

“I want to feel safe in school,” Hmura said. “I want my friends, my peers, my teachers to feel safe, and I know I want there to be a change.

“What change do you want to see?”

Makenna Colby, a student’s perspective

Makenna Colby felt empowered by Saturday’s march, seeing thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds coming together to end gun violence.

“It’s really powerful,” said the 18-year-old student from North Salem High School.

There were a lot of reasons Colby decided to participate in Salem’s March for Our Lives event.

“I’m tired of seeing this stuff happen and wondering if I’m going to be next,” she said. “My mom’s a teacher — will she be next? My sister?”

Colby has participated in a handful of rallies before, but is looking for other ways to take action on a day-to-day basis. She registered to vote last year and will be voting for the first time this May.

Participants of the march were encouraged to vote, with a booth set up at the base of the Capitol steps to register anyone interested. But since the current movement to end gun violence is primarily led by young people, not everyone is able to.

“We can’t vote, so we don’t generally have a voice,” Colby said, speaking about many of her fellow students. “Our politicians haven’t done a lot.”

To those who oppose the march, Colby has one question, “Why would you oppose this?”

“We’re not trying to take away your second amendment rights,” she said. “We’re just trying to make kids safer.”

Analysis: How teens are driving the debate on guns


Trina Hmura, a parent’s support

Trina Hmura decided to march because she wants students and teachers to be safe in school.

“Guns are a privilege, they are not a right,” she said. “They shouldn’t end up in the hands of children.”

Mass shootings are unique to America, Hmura said. Other countries have figured out a way to overcome them.

About 1,300 children are killed by guns every year in the United States, an estimate described by the Center for Disease Control as “conservative.” That’s nearly 7,000 children under the age of 17 killed since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012.

Hmura wants people to listen to the children who organized marches. “I hope people listen to what they are asking for,” she said.

Mindy Merritt, an educator’s take

Arming teachers with guns isn’t a viable solution to gun violence in the United States — not to Mindy Merritt, president of the Salem-Keizer Education Association.

“Right now, our current system can’t afford paper and pencils for students to learn,” she said, adding she thinks the idea of arming teachers is both philosophically and financially flawed.

“How could we guarantee an educator won’t make a decision that will haunt them for the rest of their lives and the students’?” she asked. “It’s putting a Band-Aid on a cast.”

Instead of arming teachers, Merritt proposes stricter gun control laws and more resources allocated for mental health treatment of students and families.

Merritt said educators were not able to participate in the national school walkouts on March 14, but could openly participate in the March 24 march because it was not on contracted time.

“The time is now to act,” Merritt said. “We have to demand the schools our kids deserve.”

Local response: Florida shooting puts focus on Salem-Keizer threat system

Dennis Jones, voicing opposition

Dennis Jones from Silverton stood in the crowd gathered at the Capitol Saturday.

He marched next to the protestors, holding an American flag. His handgun was strapped to his hip.

“I come to every rally that affects my second amendment right,” he said.

Jones said he open-carries every day and that he teaches his boys to “properly handle guns.”

Jones was one of about a dozen individuals who came to oppose the rally.

One group of four men walked on the opposite side of the protestors on Court Street, carrying guns and signs that said, “We have a right to protect our school.”

Levi Herrera-Lopez, a community outlook

Levi Herrera-Lopez, executive director of Mano a Mano in Salem, said politicians need to know this isn’t one group’s issue — it’s a community issue.

Herrera-Lopez spoke at the March for Our Lives rally. He had a message for the youth in the crowd: “Politicians who oppose you only fear losing their position of power.”

He hopes this sends a message, but said marches aren’t enough.

“We need follow through,” he said after his speech. “Go register and vote, support candidates with real family values.”

Herrera-Lopez said that as a nation, the fact that children needed to organize this march should be upsetting.

“It’s a failure, the youth are saying we haven’t kept them safe,” he said.

More on guns: Oregon initiative would ban assault weapons

Paul Evans, a lawmaker calls out NRA

State Rep. Paul Evans, D-Monmouth, believes Americans’ rights come with responsibilities.

Evans spoke at the March for Our Lives rally as a representative, a veteran and a Chemeketa Community College professor.

In his speech, Evans said people should be able to be at places of worship, in classrooms and public spaces without the fear of being shot.

He addressed the National Rifle Association and Oregon Firearm Federation, which he said have been manipulating law-abiding gun owners and influencing legislation through fear.

He told the crowd, “I am here to tell them that their day is done.”

Contact Natalie Pate at, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at

Reach out to Abby Luschei at or call 503-399-6747 regarding all things entertainment. Follow her on Twitter @abbyluschei or

Read more: #MeToo: Salem calls for healing, empowerment | Salem family reunited with dog accidentally sent to Japan | Oregon schools tackle student mental health


6,750 Salem-Keizer students transfer schools, but not for sports


After attending Howard Street Charter School for eighth grade, Andrea Hogan was supposed to move on to Sprague High School.

But with her younger sister still at Howard Street, her family, instead, decided to transfer Hogan to South Salem, which houses the charter school.

There were other benefits as well. Hogan, now 23, wanted to take part in South’s International Baccalaureate Diploma and Advancement Via Individual Determination programs.

Hogan’s experience was shared this year by more than 6,750 students in Salem-Keizer Public Schools, according to the district’s latest figures.

Read the original story at

That’s 16 percent of the district’s nearly 43,000 total student population. Applications for the coming school year are due March 31.

Students transfer for a wide range of reasons, but it can’t be for sports.

How it works

Hogan said transferring schools in the district is seamless for most people, assuming the school they want to go to isn’t too far over capacity.

For example, when Hogan tried transferring to West Salem High School for a forensic class they offered, they turned her away since they couldn’t take more students at the time.

Otherwise, it was just a matter of paperwork and getting the green light from both schools, she said.

More on Salem-Keizer: Local students participate in national walkouts

The process begins with the resident, or assigned, school, according to the district’s webpage. Parents or guardians obtain an in-district transfer request form from their resident school or the district office on Lancaster Drive.

The principals of both the resident school and the requested school separately review and approve or deny the request.

If the request is approved by both principals, parents are mailed a copy of the approved form notifying them of the decision, according to the district.

Bus transportation is not provided for students who transfer within the district and there is an appeals process if the parents disagree with the decision.

“We know we cannot possibly offer the entire breadth of programs to our students at one school,” said Kelly Carlisle, Salem-Keizer’s assistant superintendent.

“(But) we believe the diverse array of programs available to students across our … schools is an asset (to) our community.”

Why students transfer

From bullying to specialized academic offerings, students transfer for a number of reasons.

At the elementary level, the top reason to transfer is definitely childcare, said Aaron Harada, a district spokesman.

Parents may have childcare arrangements in a part of town outside their resident school and the in-district transfer allows students to attend a school closer to their childcare, he said.

Eyre Elementary in Salem received the most transfers of any elementary school for the 2017-18 school year, with 170 students transferring in, according to the March report.

For middle schoolers, there are many transfers based on special education services needed by families, Harada said. There are also transfers for students to remain in their feeder system.

For example, if a student transferred to an elementary school in Keizer, he said, they might request to transfer to a middle school in Keizer as well so they can stay with their peers.

Waldo Middle School in Salem has the most transfers this school year — 97 students — for the traditional middle schools. However, 136 went to Howard Street Charter via the school’s lottery system.

Read more: Oregon can do more to boost graduation rates, state audit says

At the high school level, Harada said many students transfer for specific educational programs, such as career technical education and foreign language courses.

Many transfer to South for its International Baccalaureate Diploma or culinary programs, to McKay High School for its nursing assistant program or to West for its fire science program.

However, officials said students are not allowed to transfer for sports, which would violate OSAA and district policies.

Just over 1,000 in-district transfers are to the district’s six traditional high schools. When including specialty programs, like Roberts High School or the district’s teen-parent program, that number reaches more than 1,800 transfers.

South Salem had the most in-district transfers this year with 374 students.

In-district transfer request forms for the 2018-19 school year are due March 31. For more information, go to or call 503-399-2632.

Contact Natalie Pate at, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at

More on education:

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An invisible problem: One student’s struggle with mental health

Will all mandatory reporters in Oregon follow Salem-Keizer’s teen sex reporting rules?

Salem-Keizer students join national walkouts over gun violence


Story by Natalie Pate, Lauren Hernandez, Connor Radnovich and Anna Reed | Read the original at

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, thousands of Salem-Keizer students walked out of class to protest gun violence, calling on state and national leaders to bring change soon.

They demonstrated for 17 minutes — one minute for every life lost in the Feb. 14 Parkland, Florida, school shooting. Starting in the East, similar rallies spread across the various time zones, coast to coast.

Outside the White House, students hoisted “Stand United” signs and chanted “‘Hey, hey, ho, ho — the NRA has got to go.” In other cities, the teenagers read aloud the names of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High victims in somber tributes.

“School is supposed to be a sanctuary, a safe place to learn, grow and reach (our) potential,” said Taylor McCarrell, a student at West Salem High School. “This was stripped from all of us … (who) now come to school fearful of what the day might end up like.

“We shouldn’t have to feel unsafe … while trying to get an education.”

Students from more than a dozen Salem-Keizer Public Schools organized protests, including both middle and high schools.

About 100 Leslie Middle School students gathering on the Oregon Capitol steps just before noon. They chanted, “No more guns,” “Keep us safe,” “Let’s make a difference,” and “I don’t know but I’ve been told; gun violence is getting old.”

Many students in the area also plan to participate in the national March for Our Lives events on March 24.

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West Salem High School

McCarrell, a junior at West, stood with approximately 200 of her peers under the school’s flagpole.

“To all the adults that try to push our voices into submission and unfairly judge us,” she said in her speech, “we are not selfish, we are not ignorant, we are not too young to understand what is actually going on … and we are not just kids.”

After McCarrell addressed the mass of students, the crowd observed about seven minutes of silence to mourn the lives lost in Parkland.

Salem-Keizer district officials supported students’ rights to protest but told families that teachers will be taking attendance before and after. Students will receive an unexcused absence if they miss any time outside the protest.

School staff supervised both students participating in the walkouts and those who chose to remain in class, with the day’s lessons continuing.

Message from the superintendentDistrict informs parents ahead of student-led walkouts

Some parents also attended the walkouts, with a few at West Salem holding signs of support. One read, “This mom supports our students. Keep them safe.”

Other parents voiced concerns, especially for the students who did not want to participate.

One parent testified at the district’s monthly board meeting Tuesday night, asking if the district would give students the same “support” if the walkout was for a different cause. He gave the example of an annual pro-life rally.

Adam Stephens Middle School

At Stephens Middle School in Salem, an estimated 900 students rallied inside the school gymnasium before walking out to the back of the school and marching around the track.

“Our President Donald Trump is allowing people to buy guns that kill people, like assault weapons,” said Nevaeh Garcia, 12. “I feel like ARs aren’t needed in Oregon or in the United States.”

Garcia said the U.S. government should push for changes in gun laws, specifically requiring background checks and prohibiting gun purchases for anyone under 21 years old.

“People are losing their loved ones, so I feel like if our schools know why we’re trying to help stop these school shootings, then maybe they can help too,” Garcia said.

Garcia led her peers around the track while chanting “no more shootings,” while other students remained silent during the 17-minute protest. Teachers and staff recorded cellphone video of their students as they weaved around the track.

For Monique Portillo, she said media organizations like CNN play a role in gun violence by showing school shooters’ faces on live broadcasts, most recently by publishing photos of 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, the man responsible for the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. 

“CNN is giving into what the shooter wants, just for ratings,” Portillo said. “This allows for other individuals to do shootings just for fame.”

Portillo said she wants the government to make school shootings its top priority to stop the “epidemic” of school shootings.

“We cannot allow one more teacher to make the choice to go in front of fire from an assault weapon to save the lives of students,” Portillo said. “Politicians are saying that now is not the time to talk about guns. The time is now.”

After the 17-minute protest, students returned to fourth period.

South Salem High School

Student body president McKenzie Stones and sophomore Justice Presley took time during the walkout at South Salem High School to encourage the estimated 300 students to keep talking about school safety beyond today’s protest.

Stones suggested joining a national “walk up” movement, which calls on students to engage with classmates whom they normally wouldn’t interact and talk about life at school.

Standing on the bleachers near the football field, Stones said each student should try to talk with 14 students and three teachers, matching the number who died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“Being kind and actually acting on these lessons is what makes a difference,” Stones said afterward.

Student volunteers also provided blank note cards so their peers could write down what they think needs to be improved at South Salem. Presley said a few took the opportunity to write nasty notes, which were put aside.

There was speculation among students and adults that some who joined the event weren’t interested in the issue — they just wanted to get out of class for 20 minutes.

But during a minute of silence in honor of the victims, hardly a whisper was heard.

Analysis: How teens are changing the debate on gun violence

Several teens carried signs reading “Fear has no place in schools,” “17 kids > your hunting trip” and “We are victims, we are students, we are change.”

This was the first protest freshman Ben Wiley has attended; he held up a sign reading “Never again.”

“Gun violence is a growing problem in schools and it needs to be dealt with,” Wiley said.

Principal Lara Tiffin said she was impressed with the students’ leadership in planning and executing the walkout. She declined to say whether she agreed with the message of the protest, instead, trying to keep the focus on the students.

“If they want to be a key part of the dialogue,” she said, “then we’re proud of them for expressing their freedom of speech.”

Whiteaker Middle School

With her hands shaking and voice trembling, eighth-grader Alyssa Hodges spoke about her cousin Martin to her peers at Whiteaker Middle School in Keizer.

Martin Duque Anguiano was killed in the Parkland shooting.

“He was one of those kids you would always see volunteering places where it was needed,” Hodges said. “Martin was a smart kid and an amazing cousin.”

After she spoke about her 14-year-old cousin, other students crowded Hodges to give hugs and words of support.

About 300 Whiteaker students participated in its student-led walkout. Hodges was impressed by the number of students who came out to be seen and heard at her school.

“When I saw how many (students) there were, I was very touched,” Hodges said.

Previous coverage: Salem-area students plan to participate in national walkouts

Fellow student Paris Boyd helped organize the middle school’s walkout. Before the event, she read 34 articles and obituaries on the 17 people killed.

“We can give statistics and numbers all the time,” Boyd said, “but I wanted the students to hear who these people really were.”

“Even though we’re middle schoolers, we still have a say in something,” she said. “We should …write letters, go to things, learn about this and then make an impact.”

Others add their voices

Students outside Salem-Keizer Public Schools organized protests as well, from Abiqua Academy, a K-12 independent school in Salem, to college students at Willamette University who marched to the state Capitol.

Gervais High School student leaders discouraged their peers from participating, saying the protests have become too politicized. Instead, they suggested students wear maroon and black to show support for the victims and observe a moment of silence.

National coverage: Students from nearly 3,000 schools walk out to protest gun violence

Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, voiced his support for the walkouts, saying schools should be safe havens that foster learning and understanding.

“Students should be able to focus on their studies,” he said. “Educators should be able to focus on instruction.

“Parents should have the peace of mind that comes with knowing their children are safe.”

In Washington, D.C., Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, met with students gathered at the Capitol.

While many weren’t old enough to vote, he said younger students can still make a difference by handing out voter registration cards, volunteering for candidates they support or by going door-to-door.

“If you can speak up, speak up,” Merkley said. “If you can march, march, and if you can vote, vote.”

Contact Natalie Pate at, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter@Nataliempate or on Facebook at

More on education: Oregon school tackle student mental health |  Student battles mental health issues in class |  Mandatory reporting hangs in the balance

Will all mandatory reporters in Oregon follow Salem-Keizer’s teen sex reporting rules?


As a doctor, Elizabeth Steiner Hayward worries about her responsibilities as a mandatory reporter.

Say a 17-year-old comes into her office and asks, “Doctor, my boyfriend and I have been together for a year and a half, we’re thinking about having sex, can we please talk about how we stay safe?”

Since Steiner Hayward is mandated by the state to report potential child abuse, “I (would) have to call child welfare. Every, single, time,” she said, addressing the Oregon Legislature.

Read the original: Mandatory reporters question responsibilities

Steiner Hayward is among the tens of thousands of mandatory reporters thrown into indecision by one school district’s interpretation of the law.

Salem-Keizer Public Schools and the Marion County District Attorney’s Office assert all mandatory reporters have to file a report with law enforcement or the Department of Human Services if they suspect or know of any sexual activity — from kissing to intercourse — involving a child under the age of 18.

This applies even if the individuals involved are within three years of each other and the activity appears consensual, meaning there is no sign of force, coercion or intimidation. It also applies to the children of mandatory reporters.

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Steiner Hayward, also a state senator from Beaverton, called on lawmakers in February to fix the interpretation, which she said, “should never have been made.”

“This is super simple folks,” she said, addressing the Oregon Senate. “If we don’t fix it, we’re gonna have a world of hurt and child welfare won’t be able to focus on the kids who are really in danger.”

Nonetheless, the Legislature failed to clarify the concerns, splitting support over an age amendment.

“At this time, there won’t be any change to our reporting guidance,” said Lillian Govus, a spokeswoman for Salem-Keizer Public Schools.

Read the backstory: Salem-Keizer staff told to report student sexual activity, including own kids

“We’ll continue to lean in on tough conversations and support open communications,” she said. “Reporting isn’t a barrier, it’s a safety net for our children.”

Some school districts, including Medford and Ashland, have followed suit, adopting Salem-Keizer’s interpretation as a precaution.

But other mandatory reporters are left questioning.

Left in limbo

There are more than 30 professions on the list of mandatory reporters in Oregon, including attorneys, psychologists, school staff, coaches, members of the clergy, legislators, dentists and pharmacists.

And they all play a significant role in addressing child abuse.

In 2016, more than 76,600 reports of child abuse were made, according to the Oregon Department of Human Services, an increase of almost 10 percent from the prior year.

About 77 percent of the reports came from mandatory reporters.

Broken down by profession, police made about 17 percent of all reports; school staff made 20 percent; medical professionals made about 10 percent; about 6 percent of reports came from parents.

More than 7,670 of the completed investigations were founded for abuse or neglect, involving 11,843 victims.

Courtni Dresser, director of government relations for the Oregon Medical Association, doesn’t foresee this changing their practices.

In a comment sent to the Statesman Journal, Dresser said, “In our view, the legislation … was about access to social and medical services, not about limiting the reporting authority or requirements when any signs of concerning activity of sexual, physical or mental abuse are evident.”

Dresser said physicians and other healthcare providers rely on guidelines developed by the Oregon Health Authority, which provide discretion to determine whether the sexual contact is truly consensual and within the three-year age range understood as the Romeo and Juliet law.

These guidelines also help identify whether other factors, including violence, coercion, or drug use, necessitate a report, she said.

But the association was clear this shouldn’t impede physicians’ abilities to talk with patients about things like sex education.

“It is imperative that adolescents in need of contraceptive services and vital reproductive health education seek care from their healthcare provider and that when no signs of abuse exist, consensual sexual activity is treated appropriately,” Dresser said.

“The patient-physician relationship is the keystone to providing quality care.”

Possible consequences

Department of Human Services officials haven’t offered much clarity, saying they do not expect mandatory reporters to follow Salem-Keizer’s interpretation, but they don’t discourage it either.

“Our role is to receive and respond to reports of suspected abuse,” department officials told the Statesman Journal in a comment. “DHS wants to be very careful to not say anything that would discourage people from reporting suspected abuse.”

But mandatory reporters need an answer — and fast. If they fail to report, even if it’s due to a lack of understanding of the requirements, they’ll face the consequences.

If a mandatory reporter fails to report, it’s considered a Class A violation, warranting a write-up and maximum fine of $2,000.

If the reporter is a public official, they face misdemeanor charges for the failure to perform their duties, said Amber Hollister, general counsel for the Oregon State Bar.

And if an attorney faces criminal charges involved with not reporting, the consequences range up to disbarment, depending on the crime, she said.

In many other states, Hollister said, it’s a misdemeanor not to report. But all 50 states have different categories of who is considered a mandatory reporter.

And federal laws only outline the minimum standards for defining child abuse and neglect for states that accept federal funding.

Contact Natalie Pate at, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at

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Mandatory reporting clarification for teen sex dropped from Oregon bill

An invisible problem: One student’s struggle with mental health


EUGENE — In many ways, Javon Robbins is a typical teen.

He loves Harry Potter and fidget spinners. He counts his steps on his Fit Bit. He brought his pet tree frog, Norm, to show-and-tell.

But Javon, 13, has been in more than six schools since he started kindergarten — and there have always been problems.

Diagnosed at a young age with an attention deficit disorder, the seventh grader from Eugene struggles to pay attention. He also suffered prenatal alcohol exposure, which can cause him to be extremely anxious, defiant and aggressive.

Read the original: One student’s story on mental health in school

His mom, Brianna Robbins, adopted him when he was 21 months old.

Javon’s conditions put him in near-constant fight-flight-or-freeze mode, she said. It doesn’t help that his typical-teen appearance makes it hard for people to understand his outbursts.

She described it as an “invisible brain disorder.”

One in five youth nationwide is affected by some type of mental disorder to such an extent they have difficulty functioning at some point in their lifetime.

And the pervasiveness of mental health issues and child suicide leads Oregon to rank as the worst state in the country for mental illness.

Children battling these issues can become so overwhelmed with the effects of their illnesses, personal trauma and surroundings they react in a way that halts their learning, as well as that of their peers.

More on mental health in schoolsOregon schools aren’t equipped to address, treat mental health disorders, but here is how they are trying to change that.

“As a parent, education is very important to me,” Robbins said. “But right now, I need him to be a successful human being.”

Schools often search for ways students can be “mainstreamed,” meaning they transition from special-needs classrooms to traditional classrooms.

“They want inclusion and less restrictive placement,” she said. But for students like Javon, those environments may be the most challenging.


Robbins has worked with some educators who seem to genuinely care about finding the best situation for Javon. But others, she said, didn’t get it at all and thought his behavior was voluntary.

So she told the district: “If we don’t get him to a point where he feels comfortable in school, we will lose him educationally.”

A day-treatment center turned out to be the best environment for Javon. There, he and only a few other students are supervised by multiple staff members and given consistent structure.

The Robbins family had to wait for about four months for a spot, working with a one-on-one instructor in the interim.

But the facility is only for middle school students. When Javon reaches high school age, the family will have to find yet another school.

Robbins, who works 20 to 25 hours a week as a personal support for families with similar issues, also cares for Javon’s birth sister, Olivia, 7.

The rest of their time is dedicated to Javon’s success. The three attend family counseling once a week and have weekly home visits and monthly meetings with school and medical professionals.

Managing their time, money and schedule is a difficult job for the single parent.

“You’re just surviving constantly,” she said.

When Robbins heard about Trillium Family Services‘ wrap-around programs, she thought, “Do I want to sign up for one more thing that may not work?”

But it turned out to be a lifesaver, giving Javon and Robbins the resources they needed.

One strategy the family now uses to monitor Javon’s behavior is a journal.

His teacher writes notes in it, then gives it to Javon to take home. Robbins writes notes back so the teacher knows about his life and behaviors outside of school.

The family also has sheets and posters on the walls of their Eugene home that give steps to de-escalate if Javon goes into crisis, how to use his words to explain what he is feeling and more.

But the day-to-day interactions Javon has with his teachers and peers is the most important factor in his success.

“As long as (he’s safe and healthy),” Robbins said, “that’s a win in my book.”

Contact Natalie Pate at, 503-399-6745 or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at

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More information

A list of mental health services available to people on the Oregon Health Plan can be viewed at

More information for residents in Marion and Polk counties can be found by contacting the Mid-Valley Behavioral Care Network, located in Salem, at 503-361-2647.

Lane County crisis line: 541-687-4000

Student mental health crisis spurs Oregon to try in-school programs


For Salem school psychologist Chris Moore, it isn’t uncommon to see a student come to school, settle into a routine and then, without warning, go into crisis.

Maybe the student punches another kid in the face, flips over a desk and curses at the teacher, Moore said. Then they run out of the school. And the teacher has to chase after them.

“In their mind, they are trying to survive,” he said.

Read the original: How schools are tackling mental health on site

Severe depression and anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder are some of the increasingly prevalent and least-understood mental health disorders among K-12 students.

About one in five — 20 percent — youth nationwide are affected by some type of mental disorder to such an extent they have difficulty functioning, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Salem-Keizer Public School’s rate is even higher — closer to one in four of the district’s nearly 42,000.

One student’s story: “I need him to be a successful human being.”

The pervasiveness of mental health issues and child suicide rates leads Oregon to rank as the worst state in the country for mental illness. And the state’s lack of child psychiatrists and school counselors leaves families waiting for months to get help.

But more subtle effects are felt, too, such as the persistent stigma associated with asking for help with mental health.

Though schools aren’t fully equipped to handle intense, mental health issues, some Oregon districts are starting to develop ways to bring services to students.

Salem-Keizer has partnered with Marion and Polk counties and Trillium Family Services, one of the largest mental and behavioral health care providers for families in Oregon, to fill part of the gap in services and lower the waiting time for families.

In its pilot year, on-site outpatient programs have been established at Washington and Brush College elementary schools, Crossler Middle School and McKay High School.

District officials and school counselors say the change has delivered substantial progress, but it’s not enough.

The district plans to expand into seven more schools before the end of this school year — Hoover, Hallman, Battle Creek and Myers elementary schools and Judson, Waldo and Walker middle schools.

“This is about the mental health of our country and whether people feel a sense of belonging to their community,” Moore said.

Too scared to learn

Students respond to mental health crises differently. But Moore has seen attacks involving punching, hitting, kicking and spitting on a regular basis.

Some have destroyed property or choked peers and staff.

Moore said about 5 percent, or 2,000 students, in the district engage in that extreme behavior.

“The priority for a kid is to feel safe in school,” he said. “Our teachers really want to know what to do.”

Of Medicaid recipients in Marion and Polk counties alone, more than 9,180 children who are 17 years old or younger have a mental health condition, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

Moore said only 20 percent of those who have been diagnosed are receiving services. And it’s not always the right care.

“Step one is just awareness,” he said.

It’s important for educators to understand how trauma — emotional and physical — affects the brain, Moore said, that there may not be an environmental trigger that sets the brain off and that there are things a person can do to reduce the impact of the trauma students have experienced.

But there are still students whose needs “far exceed even that level of intervention,” Moore said, explaining mental illness and trauma often go hand-in-hand.

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Some students go home to physical abuse, emotional trauma or neglect from a family member, and it “erases all the work they’ve done that day.”

“We definitely have kids who have complex needs,” said David Fender, the coordinator of Salem-Keizer’s Office of Behavioral Learning. “Staff are doing the best that they can.”

Wraparound services, which connect school staff and medical professionals with families on a frequent basis, are among recommended practices.

Additionally, services offered in Salem-Keizer include providing paraprofessionals, coordinating with outside providers, Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports curriculum and managing follow-up care, Fender said.

Each school in Salem-Keizer has a student support team that meets weekly.

“We don’t look at mental and physical health as separate,” Moore said.

“When our line of inquiry moves from ‘What’s wrong with you?’ to ‘What happened to you?’ or ‘What is happening to you?’ an important shift begins to take place not only in the way we think about trauma and mental health,” he said, “but also in how we feel (about) the lived experience of our most vulnerable populations and … of ourselves.”

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The school’s responsibility

Traditionally, a school’s responsibility is to provide the environment and support needed for 12 grades of instruction.

Typical markers of success are graduation, dropout and attendance rates because they get to the core requirement of a school — to get the students through the primary and secondary education systems.

Ideally, schools also provide students with skills for life after graduation, whether in higher education or the workforce.

But when a student is battling a mental health disorder, focusing and learning can slip out of reach.

And if they don’t get help, they quickly can become just another unfortunate statistic — part of Oregon’s fourth-worst in the nation graduation rate.

Absenteeism also is a serious impediment.

Oregon students with disabilities, which includes students with mental health disorders, are among the most likely student groups to be chronically absent, with only 73 percent of students with disabilities attending school regularly.

This heightens their risk of not earning a diploma.

On average, more than $170 million in tax revenue is lost each year due to the decreased earnings of high school dropouts, according to a report by the Foundation of Educational Choice, also known as EdChoice.

Additionally, more than 40 percent of high school dropouts receive Medicaid benefits, costing the state more than $200 million in annual Medicaid costs.

And they are twice as likely to be incarcerated, a $37 million annual cost to taxpayers.

Federal and statewide laws and programs have been enacted to help students with mental health disorders before they reach the point of dropping out. These include the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Individual Education Plans (IEP) and 504 plans.

But experts say a lot more has to be done to get students to the finish line and to be successful after the race.

For professionals like Richard Blum with Trillium Family Services, it’s about providing services and support and breaking down the notion that it’s bad to ask for help in the first place.

“The goal,” he said, “is (for) kids to be as comfortable going to get help for mental health as they would be if they fell on the playground, scraped their knee and went to the nurse.”

It takes a village

When asked if schools are equipped to address mental health issues, Crossler Middle School staff said, “In a word, ‘No.’ ”

“We have seen a huge increase in the number of serious mental health issues that we are not equipped (to handle),” said Donna Burnett, a counselor at Crossler.

Statewide, Oregon averages one counselor to 600 students, one of the worst ratios in the country.

In Salem-Keizer, it’s closer to one counselor per 400 students. At Crossler, there are 1.7 full-time counselors for the school’s 850 kids.

That’s one of the reasons the school was selected as the first of Salem-Keizer’s 65 schools to partner with Trillium Family Services.

Staff said the added resource has made a tremendous difference but they still need more help.

In addition to destructive behavior, Burnett and other Crossler counselors are seeing a higher rate of self-harm.

When Burnett started as a school counselor 20 years ago, she would file one or two suicide assessments a year. In the last few years, she’s filed two or three a week.

“When you have a student like that, they need a lot of intense attention and intervention,” she said. “We are not able to do that with so many kids.”

Burnett said the school contacts the parents and suggest, if they have insurance, to get the student into counseling outside of school. But that usually takes two or three months before they can be seen due to the lack of child psychiatrists.

In 2015, Oregon only had 12 child and adolescent psychiatrists for every 100,000 children ages 17 and younger, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Across the United States, there is an estimated one psychiatrist per 1,807 children who need services.

“When they are in a crisis state, that is unacceptable,” Burnett said.

She said Crossler’s staff does what it can to check in on students, but “it’s not the same as a student getting confidential, intense, personal therapy.”

Burnett’s counseling counterpart at Crossler, Michelle Roos, recently helped a student in crisis when the Trillium specialist wasn’t there.

“You have to take the student under your wing and make a safety plan, and they are with you until you can talk with the parents (and) get (them) in the car safely,” she said. “You’re talking about one or two hours.”

Roos said “school counseling wasn’t really designed to work like” that because counselors are then unavailable for the rest of the student body.

“There are a lot of other things we do,” she said, including collaborating with other agencies, serving as part of leadership teams and offering academic support.

That’s why having a Trillium counselor in the school a couple times a week has made a significant impact.

“All we have to do is contact the parents, let them know … we have this service here. The students are able to be seen on campus usually within two weeks,” Burnett said. “It’s like an outside service; it’s just housed here.”

This also allows the parents to stay at work and not take time off.

Blum of Trillium said the programs provide a free, consistent source of care to the students. “It’s like this anchor they’ve got where they have all their needs met,” he said.

“We need … intensive, mental health crisis counseling on campus at every school in Salem-Keizer,” Roos said.

“It can’t just be on the parents, the school or the police department,” she said. “Everyone across the board has to help raise America’s children.”

Natalie Pate is the education reporter for the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon. Contact Natalie at, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at

More information

A list of mental health services available to people on the Oregon Health Plan can be viewed at

More information for residents in Marion and Polk counties can be found by contacting the Mid-Valley Behavioral Care Network, located in Salem, at 503-361-2647. 

Crisis lines:

Marion County

  • Psychiatric Crisis Center: 503-585-4949
  • Youth & Family Crisis Center: 503-576-4673

Polk County

  • Crisis Services: 503-623-9289
  • After 5 p.m.: 503-581-5535

Other numbers to know:

  • Community Resources: 211
  • Oregon Health Plan Info & Enrollment: 800-699-9075
  • Transportation: 503-315-5544
  • Warm Line: 800-698-2392

Read more: 

Restraint and seclusion: struggle or safety?

Oregon schools: Diversity and absenteeism up, salaries and discipline down

Salem-Keizer staff told to report student sexual activity, including own kids

Analysis: How teens are spearheading activism, gun violence debates


The youth of America are sending a very loud message — grownups are not doing their job.

From Parkland, Florida, to Washington, D.C., to Salem, Oregon, teenagers are speaking against gun violence in a way only they can.

This value-based generation, armed with the Internet and social media, may be the first group of its size since the diner sit-ins and Flower Power of the ’60s to garner such nationwide support and attention.

Read the original: ‘They don’t play by the old rules’: How teens are driving Florida shooting debate

Generation Zers grew up in a country at war with terrorism, recovering from the Great Recession.

Using their savvy, they can mobilize millions of people quickly, at little to no cost. And the voices they amplify belong to children fighting for their futures, making it difficult for even partisan leaders to criticize without committing political suicide.

These students have been primed over the last few years to think of themselves as activists, national experts say, and to think of this as a moment when activism is required.

They watched as hundreds of thousands participated in the #BlackLivesMatter movement and walked in the women’s and climate rallies. They saw students march out of class in support of DACA. And they observed millions turning to social media to discuss sexual harassment and assault with #MeToo and #TimesUp.

So when 17 people were killed in the Parkland massacre this month, they knew there was more than a social cause at stake. It was about staying alive.

And they didn’t ask for permission.

Within a week, they created a website and mobilized thousands of youth and supporters across the United States. They’ve organized school walkouts and nationwide marches. They’ve debated politicians and looked directly into television cameras to say, “We won’t be silenced.”

And they can’t stop. Because if they do, they may die.

It’s working: Northeast governors form coalition to address gun violence

Playing by new rules

Before Feb. 14, Alfonso Calderon was worried about a math test. But with an active shooter in his school, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School junior hid in a closet for four hours with others crying, weeping and begging for their lives.

He texted his parents: “Goodbye. I may never, ever get to see you again. I love you.”

“I understand what it’s like to fear for your life,” Calderon said as he addressed a crowd at the Florida Capitol last Wednesday. “I don’t think we should ever be silenced because we are just children.

“That is powerful and it’s one of the only reasons this movement is where it is now.”

He’s right. Something is different when children take the mic and tell the country they can’t and won’t wait years or decades for change — and they don’t want thoughts or prayers either.

“They don’t play by the old rules,” said Angus Johnston, a history professor and student activism expert from City University of New York. “They are willing to do things and say things their elders are not.”

Students have played a crucial role in social change throughout history, from the civil rights movement to South African apartheid to marriage equality.

They protested the Vietnam War as visceral images of combat burst into American living rooms. And just a few years ago, they organized demonstrations after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri.

But today’s cohort of children, the Generation Zers, has a unique quality unlike those of the past. They are one of the most diverse generations yet. They only know the U.S. as a country at war.

And they grew up with the Internet and social media not only present, but as a fundamental part of life.

When tragedy strikes, they record and live-stream. They create hashtags to coordinate digital messages. They network with people outside their hometowns. They expose themselves to different perspectives and cultural bubbles instantaneously.

“They have this expectation that you can link together digitally and they will figure out how to do it without asking anyone’s permission,” said Danilo Campos, an educator and technology expert from Brooklyn, New York.

Last October, students from Salem-Keizer Public Schools protested at the Oregon Capitol over mandatory reporting rules regarding teens’ sexual activity. They created an online petition, collected more than 4,500 signatures and convinced the state Legislature to revamp state law.

And this week, about 200 McKay High School students walked out to protest school safety concerns. Many more Salem-area teens plan to participate in the national walkouts in March and April.

This ability to connect and mobilize is something vastly underestimated, Campos argues, and it’s redefining the world.

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Just like combat footage from Vietnam and the Rodney King beating video in the 1990s, the moving images circulating on social media, and the messages that accompany them, change the narrative the country has been fed in the past.

And like political debates on Facebook with friends and family, the use of social media and the strength of teen voices makes it personal.

“What they had to say was unmediated,” Johnston said, adding they didn’t melt down when challenged. “There was no barrier to them and getting the word out.”

These teens are the survivors of a shooting massacre. They are sharing their hurt, pain and anger and, as Campos said, “They don’t have to convince a news editor that it matters.”

Campos said this movement is recruiting people who see “these folks are just like me,” and, beyond that, making it so the problem can’t just go away.

School shootings are horrifying to the majority of Americans, regardless of state, political party, race, age, economic status, gender or sexuality.

Every student, every parent and every educator can be affected.

“A lot of us, young and not so young, have had this building sense of horror … that something has gone deeply, deeply wrong,” Johnston said. “We need to act now because things are … getting worse.

“Young people … bring a sense of urgency.”

Activism turns to influence

Teenagers’ anger and mobilization over the Florida deaths shouldn’t be a surprise. National experts say earlier movements have been laying the groundwork.

Students watched the country react negatively to Colin Kaepernick, the Black Lives Matter movement, the women’s march. They saw multiple states tighten laws to restrict protests. They witnessed the screaming matches on Facebook and Twitter.

And this could have taught impressionable young people that activism is ineffective, that America sees protesters as selfish, naïve and dangerous. But instead, teens learned they have a moral imperative to stand up, and that their voices matter.

“Our children are not our future,” said Mathew Poteet of the Chemewa Indian School in Oregon at a march on MLK Jr. Day. “They are here, they are today. And they are watching.”

Opinion: Students, educators can learn together through protests

study by two University of Michigan professors in the early 1990s found students were more likely to protest the Persian Gulf War if their parents protested the Vietnam War in the 60s — a not-so-distant past as students read about activists like Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahātmā Gandhi in their textbooks.

And in the last five years, students have seen people use activism to change the national conversation.

There is a “fertile ground for organizing now,” Johnston said. Black Lives Matter, DREAMers and the MeToo movement have primed young people to see activism as not only a viable option, but as perhaps the only thing that will make a difference.

Even people who otherwise didn’t see themselves as activists are showing up.

Last year, hundreds of students from McKay High School in Salem walked out of class in support of DREAMers, an action that was mirrored in cities nationwide. Many were DACA recipients themselves, putting them and their families in potential danger by being there.

But they said they had no choice.

“A free society is not free of cost,” Campos said. “And if you don’t get up and stand (to) be counted, there’s a possibility you’ll lose that.”

Natalie Pate is the education reporter for the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon, a USA Today property. Contact her at, 503-399-6745 or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at

More response to the shooting: Florida shooting puts focus on safety plan developed by  Salem-Keizer Public Schools