Fence posts line the playing fields behind Abraham Lincoln Elementary School. Bob Pennell / Mail Tribune photo - Bob Pennell

Safety leads to fenced-in grounds

Most of the Medford School District's 14 elementary schools will be enclosed by fencing by summer's end in an effort to increase safety and prevent such mishaps as a student's near-drowning last fall at Jacksonville Elementary School.

"The purpose is to keep other people off our grounds during school hours and to keep kids in," said Rich Miles, Medford schools elementary education director. "We have kids with behavioral or emotional issues that are runners. When they get upset, they run away."

Miles said the playgrounds would continue to be accessible to the public during the summer and before and after classes during the school year. Most likely, campus monitors or custodians would be responsible for locking the gates when classes begin in the morning and unlocking them when classes adjourn at the end of the day, he said. During the summer, the gates will remain unlocked, he said. At some campuses where vandalism has been a problem, playground visitors might have to walk farther around the campus to reach the play area, but the playground will be open, Miles said.

Bond funds approved by voters in 2006, which are restricted by law to go toward construction projects, will pay for all of the fencing, Miles said.

Fencing already has been installed at Jacksonville, Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln elementary schools at a total cost of $120,000.

The fences have proven effective, Miles said.

"At Kennedy, a student had tried to run away, and when she got to the fence, she just sat down," Miles said. "It saved staff time and worry, and she was able to sit down and cool off."

The other 11 elementary schools will receive new fencing or repairs to existing enclosures over the summer, with the exception of Jackson and Roosevelt. Those two campuses are under construction and won't be completed until the end of the year. Fences will be added when construction is complete. The fencing at the other campuses will cost an average of $5,000 each, though bids have not yet been put out for all of the projects, said Mark Button, Medford schools facilities manager.

An autistic student, 6-year-old Luke Baehne, was found Oct. 7 unconscious and not breathing in an irrigation ditch after wandering away from recess at Jacksonville Elementary School.

"Certainly the incident at Jacksonville in the fall was a catalyst for looking at the safety of the playgrounds," Miles said.

Baehne is believed to have fully recovered. His parents could not be reached Friday, and according to the Southern Oregon Education Service District, which provided his instruction at Jacksonville, he has not returned to school.

"From everything we heard, he was doing really well," said Sandra Crews, special education director for the Southern Oregon ESD. "We were expecting him to return to school."

After Baehne's accident, Miles and Button walked the playgrounds at all of the elementary campuses to pinpoint safety risks.

"One priority was Abe Lincoln because there are two bodies of standing water that kids had access to, and one was behind a berm, so if kids got down there the campus monitor couldn't see them," Miles said.

Esperanza Avalos, mother of a first-grader and third-grader who will attend Abraham Lincoln next year, said the fences made her feel that her kids would be more secure at the campus.

"It's a good idea," Avalos said.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or

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