ETHS Parents, Staff Unfazed By School Shootings

Deepa Seetharaman

By Deepa SeetharamanThe Daily Northwestern

In the wake of a spate of school shootings across the nation, Evanston school officials and parents said they remain confident in their school safety systems.

“The situation, of course, gave another heightened concern,” said Valorie Moore, assistant superintendent of school operations for Evanston/Skokie District 65. “We’re trying to do everything possible and trying to look down the road and not be reactive when we’re dealing with safety with the schools.”

The school shootings started Sept. 26, when a man held six girls hostage at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, Colo., and then shot and killed Emily Keyes, 16, and himself, according to news reports. Three days later, in Cazenovia, Wis., a 15-year-old student shot and killed Weston School Principal John Klang.

Earlier this month, in the highly publicized Amish school shooting, Charles Carl Roberts IV entered the one-room West Nickel Mines Amish School and shot 10 students, ages 6 to 13 years old, killing five of them. He then killed himself. Last week, a 13-year-old boy fired a single shot at Joplin Memorial Middle School in Joplin, Mo. No one was hurt.

Despite the shootings, there are few concerns about school safety in Evanston.

“Maybe we’re being naive, but … I don’t think we’re thinking as far as someone coming into the building and shooting,” said Lohra Vogel, vice president of programs for Evanston Township High School’s Parent Teacher Student Association.

At a safety meeting after the shootings, District 65 officials were concerned about the shootings but were certain their safety measures were adequate, Moore said.

“All principals have developed (crisis) plans with the teachers,” Moore said. “We have been giving a copy of our crisis plan to our fire and police departments. We constantly provide professional development around safety (for teachers and staff).”

District 65 schools are required by state law to have one fire drill every month, she said. Each elementary and middle school in the district received a free hazard alert radio last week from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as part of a nationwide effort to improve safety in public facilities.

“It’s like an alarm clock,” Moore said. “It can be programmed to sound alerts to schools (such as) tornado watch, flood or an individual to watch out for.”

Officials are updating security systems at ETHS, replacing analog cameras with digital ones. The $430,000 project was approved in May by the school board in hopes of deterring hallway fights and other crimes. Workers started installing the first cameras Thursday.

“It has nothing to do with the wave of the security threats across the country,” said Terrence Doby, assistant director for safety at ETHS. “This was just being proactive.”

Since the shootings in the last month, Doby said there “hasn’t been a large outcry of concern … I think people know we employ pretty good safety principles on a daily basis. We are watching, we are vigilant, we’re taking care of business.”

The recent appointment of former police chief Frank Kaminski as director of security also steadies parental concerns, Vogel said.

“There are a lot of problems in the neighborhood, so you’re always concerned, but I feel that Evanston (Township) High School has a really good handle on it, especially now that Frank Kaminski is the head of school safety,” Vogel said. “There’s a lot of communication between the high school and police department.”

Since security officials cannot watch camera feeds live, they must review footage later. Doby said he hopes that procedure will change in the future.

Additionally, the district is looking into software that will let schools search a database of people who shouldn’t be near schools, such as sexual offenders.

“They’re preemptive,” Vogel said. “A lot of parents are more concerned about fights in the hallway.”

Reach Deepa Seetharaman [email protected]