A spat between neighbors and a Portland middle school centers on dog poop and drunken people wandering onto school grounds.
Hosford Middle School in Southeast Portland is adjacent to a large, grassy field that runs the length of the school. It’s the property of Portland Public Schools—but it’s historically been open to the public before and after school hours.
Then, earlier this year, the district constructed a chain-link fence around the entire field at Hosford “due to strangers coming on to our campus during school hours,” wrote interim principal Joe Mitacek to school parents in a newsletter on April 24. “I can say since it was installed it has helped prevent heavily intoxicated people from coming near our students multiple times.”
The other big reason for the fence? Irresponsible dog owners.
When schools closed at the beginning of the pandemic, some dog owners began using school fields as de facto off-leash dog parks. Once schools opened back up, a district representative tells WW, dog owners had a hard time relinquishing the use they became accustomed to during shutdowns.
Dogs were tearing up fields unleashed, digging holes big enough for a not yet spatially aware 6-year-old to fall into, and leaving feces on the grass.
So the district erected two chain-link fences around the fields at Hosford and Kenton School in North Portland. Shortly thereafter, the district began locking gates to those fences with padlocks.
“People using the property on the weekend without a permit have caused thousands of dollars worth of damage to the building this school year,” wrote Mitacek in the April email to parents. “Additionally, with the turn of the weather, we now have groups that have permitted out in the fields and they’ve experienced some interference or aggression from dogs.”
Neighbors would also let their dogs off leash. When custodians tried to enforce the leash rule, wrote Mitacek, they were “subject to harassment by dog owners.”
Neighbors aren’t pleased with the school district treating the fields like private property.
One Southeast Portland resident wrote to WW: “I am one of those people having just paid $8,000 in property taxes partly funding said school....The neighborhood has persisted in going every day, knowing their rights. The locks and chains are cut by bolt cutter every day and the school continues to replace them. I have witnessed elderly and pregnant people jumping and climbing under the fences in a beautiful encapsulation of Portland’s fierce spirit.”
A Portland Public Schools spokesperson says people have indeed repeatedly cut chains and the fence at Hosford with bolt cutters, forcing the district to incur replacement and repair costs.
On a Friday afternoon visit to Hosford, two signs emblematic of the spat adorned the fence. One with a poop emoji read: “Kids play here. Pick it up.” The other read, “School is back in session. Students are eating outside. Please do not bring dogs onto campus.”
The latter sign features a large dog’s head. The school’s mascot, it turns out, is the Hosford Huskies.
While the school district has an agreement with the city that allows for public use of its facilities, including fields, through a permit process, most schools have simply allowed their fields to go used by the public without such stringent regulation. However, the school district tells WW the public can still access the locked fields if they comply with the formal permitting process.