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Bend-La Pine Schools investigating why sex offender was let into High Desert MS office to use restroom

High Desert Middle School
KTVZ file
High Desert Middle School

(Update: Superintendent says investigation underway, calls event 'unacceptable')

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Bend-La Pine Schools are investigating why a 40-year-old Bend registered sex offender, wanted on a federal warrant, was allowed into the office area of High Desert Middle School to use the restroom, prompting a police call-out, “secure” lockout status and his arrest down the street.

Here's a message sent to school families Tuesday by superintendent Dr. Steven Cook:

"High Desert Middle School Families:

"As Principal McCulloch shared yesterday, High Desert Middle School was placed in a short ‘SECURE’ Tuesday morning while police investigated a report of a suspicious person in the area. 

"During our post-incident debrief, it became apparent that the suspicious person, Thomas Lee Bear, had been allowed to enter High Desert Middle School’s administrative office area to use the restroom, beyond the secure lobby area, without a mandatory check-in. At no time was Bear in the presence of students. Bear remained in the administrative office area and did not move into the main school hallways or classrooms.

"Additionally, the review identified  that District safety protocols were not followed. As such, we began a formal incident investigation. This investigation is ongoing. 

"The event at High Desert Middle School yesterday is unacceptable and not indicative of our culture and commitment to safety in our schools. We take the safety of our students and our staff seriously. Unfettered entry by the public into our schools is not acceptable, violates our policies, and puts our school community at risk. 

"As a reminder, during regular school hours, all visitors must report directly to the school’s main office to obtain permission to visit and must sign in and out through the visitor management system. The system tracks when a person arrives, how long they stay, and can be used to ‘account for all persons’ in the event of an emergency. Additionally, the system alerts staff to the presence of those on the national sex offender registry and provides custom safety alerts added by school and district leadership.

"We will continue to set clear expectations, work collaboratively with our school staff to reinforce these expectations, and clearly communicate our safety expectations to our staff, students, and families. 

"Thank you for your continued partnership.

"Dr. Steven Cook
Superintendent, Bend-La Pine Schools"

The southeast Bend school was placed in "secure" lockout status with exterior doors locked for about a half-hour Tuesday morning after Thomas Lee Bear, 40, showed up at the school.

Police responded to a call from the school about a suspicious man who had shown up there, and officers contacted Bear down the street from the school, police Communications Manager Sheila Miller said Tuesday.

He was confirmed to have a no-bail warrant from U.S. Marshals and was taken into custody on the warrant, as well as a parole violation, and was lodged at the Deschutes County Jail. Court records show Bear was convicted of sex abuse, including offenses against minors.

Miller confirmed Bear was on parole for child sex offenses, and that the conditions imposed included not going near schools or other places where children gather.

Secure status is similar to what previously was called "lockout," in which exterior doors are locked and not opened, but school sessions can proceed as normal. (It's part of the recently revised Standard Response protocol, included below.)

Here's the initial message sent to school families Tuesday by Principal Wendy McCulloch:

"At about 10:40 a.m. today, we locked our permitter doors and went into SECURE, in response to a suspicious person in the area. We were released from SECURE at about 11:15 a.m., when law enforcement alerted us that they had a suspect in custody.

"During a SECURE, we bring all students inside our buildings, lock all exterior doors and proceed with instructional time as usual in our classrooms. No one is allowed to enter our schools during a SECURE and those inside remain there until the SECURE cleared.

"We practice SECURE drills with our students and staff annually. You can learn more about emergency preparedness here (see below)

"I want to thank our staff and students for doing an amazing job of following our safety protocols. Together, we are working to create a safe, caring community for our students.

Thank you,

Principal Wendy McCulloch"

Article Topic Follows: Crime And Courts

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