Operation goes too far

Llewellyn Elementary School in southeast Portland made headlines recently for sending home inappropriate reading material courtesy of the Portland Police Department.

Llewellyn Elementary School in southeast Portland made headlines recently for sending home inappropriate reading material courtesy of the Portland Police Department. An annual booklet called “Operation Safe Summer” was given to the school district by the PPD to pass out to the kids. Apparently no one at the school read page 24 before it got into the hands of young children.

The booklet is an effort to encourage safe, active and fun activities for kids during the summer to keep them occupied and presumably out of trouble—at least, pages 1–23 fit that description. The activities in the booklet include events at the Oregon Zoo, the library, Portland Children’s Museum as well as others put on by Portland Parks and Recreation.

Joe Alvaro, a father of a 10-year-old child who received the booklet, complained about explicit sexual descriptions appearing on the last page, according to reports on KATU.

Page 24, now removed from the booklet, was a warning for parents and older students about Oregon Measure 11 crimes. Measure 11 states that children over the age of 15 who commit certain violent crimes will be tried as adults and states mandatory sentences for each crime committed. According to www.crimevictimsunited.org, the 24 crimes listed in the measure include arson, robbery, assault, sexual abuse, murder, rape and kidnapping.

Page 24 of “Operation Safe Summer” included warnings about committing these types of crimes and allowing others to commit them as well as short descriptions of what the crimes are. The propriety of this for grade school children is questionable—and it is also questionable how much of the language they could even comprehend.

Since blaming the police bureau for everything is the trend lately, many people jumped on board and pointed their fingers at the PPD. However, this time the blame should fall on the school. Matt Shelby, a spokesman for the Portland Public School System, told The Oregonian that the principals of each school decide whether to distribute materials and to which grade levels.

Obviously, no one of authority at Llewellyn Elementary paged through the booklet to see what exactly was being passed out to the children—something that would have probably taken about five minutes.

Shelby also said that the district does not review material given for students by a city agency and was quoted as saying, “I think we think that…the Police Bureau would understand age-appropriate content.” Really? Because it seems like that would be a job for school administrators and educators, not police. What training do they have in age appropriateness?

It is unpleasant to think about, but children are victims and perpetrators of violent crimes all the time and it is important that they know about such matters in case they need to take action. Interestingly, no one put up a stink about the violence that was illustrated on page 24—only the sex.

Why is the uproar always about sex instead of violence? Why do we shield our children more from something that they will all participate in someday than something we ideally would hope they would never have to deal with? Americans have some skewed perceptions.

Schools are supposed to be, and should be, held accountable for what is distributed to students. Was it unexpected that the PPD included Measure 11 in the “Operation Safe Summer” booklet this year? Yes, and I am sure it caught the schools by surprise. However, it is the job of law enforcement to inform the public about crime and crime prevention, which is what they were doing. It is also possible that young children should know about Measure 11 crimes.

The responsibility of age-appropriate censorship belongs to those who are entrusted with educating our children, not with police. The school should have reviewed the booklet and either asked for page 24 to be taken out or made less explicit. The PPD should have cooperated with whatever the school district suggested.