After last month’s horrific Newtown, CT, school shooting, the District 181 Safety Committee said it supported several new safety measures in district schools at Monday night’s school board meeting.
The safety committee, made up of local public safety officials including Hinsdale Police Chief Brad Bloom, Clarendon Hills DARE officer Rick Talerico, and Burr Ridge Police Deputy Chief Tim Vaclav, met on Dec. 20, less than a week after the Dec. 14 Newtown shooting, and determined that District 181 should advance single-buzzer entry systems to double-buzzer systems at each school and have building secretaries perform criminal checks of visitors before entry.
The committee stopped short Monday night of recommending bulletproof windows, metal detectors, or an armed security guard at each school.
Bloom said the presence of a security guard, a costly option, could deter someone considering a violent act at a school, but would not be a guarantee against an incident happening.
“Would it be improved security to the building, I think undoubtedly yes,” Bloom said. “Would it prevent an incident from occurring? I would say no.”
For bulletproof glass to be effective, Hinsdale officer Mike Coughlin said, it would need to be used in all window frames, another high-cost option. Metal detectors, Coughlin said, were not seen as necessary by the committee at this point for a K-8 district.
The double-buzzer system, requiring visitors to first be allowed into the school’s lobby, and then into the school itself, would allow building secretaries a second chance to evaluate visitors, assistant superintendent for business and operations Gary Frisch said.
“Our law enforcement officers thought that every second counts,” Frisch said.
Facilities coordinator Jim Prusa said that currently, visitors can freely enter schools’ exterior doors into a secure lobby, where they are then buzzed into the office by a secretary or nurse who, depending on the building, can see them either in the flesh through a window or on a monitor via a surveillance camera.
Frisch, who serves on the safety committee along with communications director Bridget McGuiggan, said the visitor background checks would make the secretary aware of any felony convictions against the visitor and would be done by running a state ID of each visitor before providing him or her a visitor pass. Currently visitors are only required to sign in.
“That’s the key: to know who’s in the building, to have the records in case we have an event and we want to be able to account for each and every [person],” Frisch said.
The committee also recommended increasing the number of surveillance cameras in schools and the number of lockdown drills performed each year so that students and faculty are more familiar with the procedure.
“We want to make the lockdown drill as comfortable and as routine as our fire drill,” Frisch said.
Monday’s item was discussion-only, meaning no board action was taken on any recommendations. Frisch said the exact cost of the possible changes has not been calculated.
Ultimately, the District 181 needs to have a “culture of security,” Bloom said. Staff will need to challenge anyone in a school without a visitor pass and follow the procedures with frequent visitors they recognize. Parents and visitors need to understand and respect these policies, as well.
“If we’re going to improve safety in the district, we have to improve the culture,” Bloom said. “And if we’re going to improve the culture, it can't be just the District 181 staff. It has to be the parents and the visitors to the building along with the staff.”
Parents who spoke during the public comment portion of the discussion raised ideas that, in addition to support for bulletproof glass, included increased attention to potentially unstable students, alarms triggered by broken windows, and a firearm with a staff member trained to use it in each school.
Frisch said the committee would take into consideration all parent suggestions as it continues its work.
McGuiggan touched on the communication methods that would be used during an emergency. They included the district’s website, SchoolMessenger’s emails, phone calls and text messages to parents; the district's outgoing voicemail; its Twitter account; local media; and the district’s emergency closing center.
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