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Suburban schools always on alert for safety concerns

Updated: December 14, 2012 5:18PM



North suburban schools reacted with shock and concern Friday to the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Several schools requested stepped-up police presence in their vicinity worried that copycats may emerge. Skokie stepped up patrols at all its schools, reacting to requests from various schools there.

District 109 in Deerfield, who also requested extra police presence at all of their schools, sent out a notice to parents assuring them that safety is always the focus in the operations of our schools.

“It’s at the top of the minds of the teachers, administrators and all staff members who care for your students throughout the day,” said the letter sent out by District 109 Superintedent Renee Goier. “We have established safety procedures in place across all buildings that our staff members clearly understand and diligently enforce. In addition, we always work with the Deerfield Police Department to ensure the safety of our staff and students.”

Brett Clark, spokesman for Glenview’s School District 34 said the incident was a reminder on the importance of safety procedures and check-in for all visitors. He said the district conducted regular safety drills, building lockdowns and each school has the double safety and security doors at the main entrances.

“All visitors to our schools must enter and sign in with the school office,” he said. “Other exterior doors to the buildings remain locked at all times and only staff can access those doors with their identification badge.”

Obviously, when we hear about a tragedy such as this, it both serves as a reminder of our own experience many years ago at Hubbard Woods School, said Winnetka District 36 Superintendent Thomas Hagerman.

In 1988, Hubbard Woods became nationally known when Laurie Dann opened fire in the school, killing one student and wounding 5 others.

It also is an opportunity to reflect on the security measures that we currently have in the District to ensure the safety of our own students and staff. The Winnetka Public Schools has a safety plan in place that has been reviewed with the Village police and fire departments.

“Even though it hasn’t happened here, it certainly has created shock among the teachers and parents for the loss of life, especially at this time of year,” said Philip Bender, superintendent of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64.

In a letter prepared for parents in response to the school shooting, Bender indicated that District 64, as well as schools across the country, “will integrate lessons learned into ongoing school safety procedures.”

Bender said the district stays on top of its safety protocol and just over one year ago formed a “crisis committee” with Maine Township High School District 207 and local police and fire departments. “With that group we are constantly reviewing safety measures and anything we can tighten up or do better in order the facilitate the safety of our kids,” Bender said.

Exterior doors at each school in the district are kept locked and visitors are buzzed in by the school office. When doors are open, for recess or deliveries, a member of the school staff is assigned to monitor the entrance, Bender said. Principals and school staff are also reminded to keep an eye out for, and report, anyone who does not belong on the school grounds.

“Especially when staff members are on the playground during playground time they’re always on the look-out” for any individuals who are not familiar to them, Bender said.

Each school conducts lockdown drills with assistance from the local police departments so students and staff know the procedure if violence were to occur in the building.

“This is the unimaginable,” said Venitia Miles, director of communications for Township High School District 214.

She added that district officials remain confident in the crisis-management plans they have for each of their buildings, including Buffalo Grove High School.

“That’s not going to change,” she said.

At District 96, spokeswoman Betsy Fresen said teachers and counselors did not break the news to their students. At Aptakisic-Tripp Elementary District 102, superintendent Theresa Dunkin said her teachers had been determining what, if anything, to say in their classrooms.

“You make sure everybody is getting the comfort they need,” she said.

The tragic murders, which reportedly took the lives of 20 school children and six adults, certainly changed the Friday-morning plans in the world of education.

“We encourage parents to provide an age-appropriate explanation to their children and try to limit their contact with content that may not be suitable to their maturity level,” Hewitt said.

Northbrook Elementary District 28 Superintendent Larry A. Hewitt also sent a letter to parents Friday reassuring them about the district’s security policies. “The district always requests vigilance when it comes to securing entrances and requiring that all visitors check in at our school offices.”

Visitors also must wear ID badges to help staff quickly identify anyone who has not gone through the proper procedures to enter the building, Hewitt said.

District 28 also uses a variety of communication tools to help ensure that families and staff are informed about any incidents as needed, Hewitt said, including an automated phone notification system, an e-mail list and alerts on the website.

Social workers and psychologists are prepared to work with students and their families and to provide guidance about ways to discuss the tragedy in an age-appropriate manner.



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