By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
McNary High School principal John Honey is well aware of the problems by the barrier separating the school from the neighborhood on Sandy Drive.
“It has been the bane of my existence,” the fourth-year MHS principal said. “It has been a problem probably since the school opened and there were houses on Sandy.”
As such, it doesn’t take much to imagine how the neighbors feel.
Two of the neighbors, Shabri Vignery and Audra Anderson, spoke of issues with MHS students during a recent Keizer City Council meeting.
“There has become a big problem with loitering,” Vignery said. “They stand (around the barrier) from 6:30 a.m. on, smoking cigarettes, peeing in bushes, smoking marijuana. They don’t leave until 4 p.m. Now they’re coming on weekends as well. We’ve tried calling the high school, but they can only do so much. When we see them with the drugs, or urinating in the bushes, we call the police. But by the time the police are there, they are gone and the drugs are put away. They are loitering a long time and we can’t do anything about it. If we ask them to move on or ask why, we get backlash. It’s verbal abuse.”
Anderson has lived on Sandy Drive for seven years.
“This isn’t something new,” Anderson said. “It has continually gotten worse. It goes in cycles. Lately the drug problem is becoming pretty intense. A lot of kids are high, right in our faces and walking to school. We can smell it. We can expect to get called every name in the book. It’s ridiculous. They do it right in front of our children.”
Vignery noted there is temporary relief when authorities are around.
“Living next to a high school, you expect kids coming and going,” she said. “When we do call, officers will come and sit there. They don’t do drugs right then. But as soon as the officer leaves, here comes the group. The group is just standing there when the cops are there, because loitering is allowed.”
Police Chief John Teague noted the problem between neighbors and MHS students goes back much further than seven years.
“It’s a 25-year problem, at least,” Teague said. “It’s exacerbated by the barrier between Sandy and 4th. They used to hang out where Sandy dumps into (the MHS) parking lot. Once the barricade went in there (in the early 1990s), that made it a perfect place to hang out.”
Teague said a higher fence and new gate, installed in mid-May, represent “the next big hope” to make a dent in the issue.
“We’re hoping the manned gate will mitigate part of the problem,” he said.
Councilor Dennis Koho recalled being on council previously when Sandy Drive residents asked for the barrier due to traffic and accidents.
“We just exchanged one problem for another,” mayor Lore Christopher said. “Now we have loitering.”
In an interview with the Keizertimes on Tuesday, Honey emphasized just a small portion of students are causing the problem.
“We have 2,100 kids,” Honey said. “We’re probably talking 20 to 30 kids doing this, total. It’s not always 30 at a time. It could be five this week, 12 on Friday. It ebbs and flows.”
Councilor Cathy Clark had a similar point at the council meeting.
“A small number of very irresponsible young people misrepresent the great kids at the high school. They create an enormous amount of misery for others.”
Vignery said being out with her 19-month-old son doesn’t change behavior of the teens.
“They don’t care,” she said. “I go out with my son and they don’t change their language.”
Teague agreed with that.
“She’s not exaggerating,” he told councilors. “It really is that bad. (The teens) don’t care.”
Councilor Jim Taylor wondered if there could be a “no loitering” ordinance for the neighborhood and commended Vignery and Anderson for keeping their cool.
“You have more patience than I do,” Taylor said. “I would probably have been arrested by now.”
Former councilor Richard Walsh suggested putting a camera on the barrier as a way to solve the problem.
“That’s a great idea,” Christopher said.
Honey agreed there is a problem with the “general boorish behavior” of a small number of students.
“It’s not what you want in your front yard,” he said. “We are very sensitive to that. We work closely with our ASB (Associated Student Body) leaders. One thing we work on is to educate our students about being appropriate neighbors. The other issue is there is fast food on River Road and Sandy is the easiest access to it.”
Honey said the school has a campus monitor by the barricade during lunch, right before and right after school.
“We can’t hang out until all the kids are gone,” he said. “We can’t have someone out there all day long. The other 2,070 kids aren’t there doing this stuff. They drive off or they walk through the neighborhood or are doing things after school. There are not 12 kids we can easily identify and the problem can be solved.”
Honey noted there isn’t much school officials can do once students are off school property.
“How do I focus on the school and make sure our kids are safe, and also police the neighborhood? We can’t police the neighborhood,” he said. “We don’t have the resources or authority. It’s a shared problem. We know where they’re coming from. I will own that. But once they’re out there, it’s how the community engages those kids and how the police engage them. We have worked with individual families, talking about how to approach the kids. It doesn’t help anyone if it becomes a confrontational thing.”
For next school year, Honey said the gate between Sandy and the high school will be chained shut from 7:30 a.m. until 2:20 p.m. on school days.
“We’re hoping that will fix some of the disruptions during the school day,” he said. “We feel bad we can’t just fix the problem.”