By Jeff Vorva
The tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut on Dec. 14 followed by the manhunt in Tinley Park for two men who escaped from a prison in Chicago four days later have High School District 230 board members re-examining their safety procedures.
The board discussed some of the procedures that they implemented earlier in the year during last Thursday's meeting. The three schools - Andrew in Tinley Park, Sandburg in Orland Park and Stagg in Palos Hills went into a soft lockdown on Dec. 18 when two bank robbers escaped from the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago and were considered dangerous.
A soft lockdown is limited movement in the hallways during class time and no outside activities are allowed, including driver's education classes.
District 230 Superintendent James Gay told the board that the shootings in the Connecticut school and the manhunt in Tinley Park are reasons to look at safety procedures, but added that the district was already beefing up its security long before these events happened.
"First and foremost, providing a safe environment is our top priority," Gay said. "District 230 has followed the guidance provided by safety exports nationally and locally in order to keep our schools safe. We have a strong relationship with local law enforcement, who regularly review our safety plans. Earlier this year, we did a comprehensive safety audit with local law enforcement and an outside consultant."
Through those audits, the district received recommendations that have been implemented, including improved security cameras both outside in inside the buildings at the three campuses. The outside access to all three schools has also been tightened up, Gay noted.
"We have one point of entry where visitors buzz in and must show an ID and it is run through a police data base prior to receiving access," Gay said.
Board member Carol Baker suggested a type of "panic button" could be placed in the entrance areas.
"If someone comes in and looks angry or doesn't provide the right information, or there is a concern, there is a way for people at the security desk can notify the main office or the police," she said. "I don't know if it's possible to do that. It would be a way of slowing that person down."
Gay said that similar technology is being placed in the three schools. A police officer is already assigned to each of the three buildings during school hours.
Board member Richard Nogal said that in 2013, committees should review the security procedures because he has concerns over some potential problem areas, including the night entrance at Sandburg. Visitors enter the building from the west side and there is no security in the immediate area and they could go down two hallways.
"There is security after walking a long pathway," Nogal said. "But you have students who are opening the door for everybody."
Board member Kathy Quilty suggested that students should have a say in security policies.
"When we give them student surveys we should ask them what they are afraid of and what they would suggest," she said. "Are they afraid of bullying? Are they afraid of what happened [in Connecticut]?
They might have some great ideas and could be a part of the process."
The board voted for a 1.5 percent increase on its tax levy from 2011. The district is seeking a $100.5 million levy in which more than $80 million will go toward the education fund. The board voted 5-0. Board President Frank Grabowski was absent and board member Mike Hastings had resigned before the vote to pursue his career as a state senator.