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By DAVE HINTON
Rantoul Press editor
One school had an emergency lockdown drill. Staff from another school will hear a talk by a gun and knife self-defense specialist. Others, if their schools don’t have security systems, might look into getting them.
Administrators from area school districts said it’s too bad that it had to come to this, but extra precautions, extra training and extra discussions are forthcoming in the wake of the killing spree that left 26 young children and adults dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., earlier this month.
Vic White, superintendent of the Prairieview-Ogden school district, which serves rural Thomasboro, Royal, Flatville and Ogden, called the Newtown incident “sickening.”
He said a teacher in-service session is scheduled Feb. 15 in which a gun and knife self-defense specialist and a former police officer will speak with teachers and other staff.
“They will be instructing all employees on gun and knife self-defense,” White said.
Rod Grimsley, Gifford Grade School superintendent, said the school had local law enforcement officials at the school to conduct an emergency lockdown procedure last week.
“The staff and students did extremely well with this drill,” Grimsley said. “I think the Connecticut situation has given everyone a new focus on safety and plans.”
He said he informed the school board about the drill.
Michelle Ramage, Rantoul City Schools superintendent, said during the Christmas break she will be reviewing any changes to RCS schools’ security plan that might need to be made.
“Nothing stands out as an area we’re weak in,” Ramage said. “We do that every year. We review it with administration, and administration review it with their building (personnel). There’s always room for improvement, room for ideas.”
Ramage said she has received some feedback from the public about whether RCS schools are safe. Most feedback, she said, goes to the principals in the various buildings.
“What I’ve been asked is just some general knowledge that has been put in place and just that there is a crisis plan, and is it in practice?” Ramage said.
The schools are mandated to conduct drills, she said, “but we do above and beyond what is required. Having an SRO (school resource officer) on staff, it’s easier to do some of those drills and have some of the real feedback from an expert.”
Scott Amerio, Rantoul Township High School superintendent, said the school already had been looking at plans to increase security at its building.
He said at the RTHS board’s December meeting that he would secure updated costs on whether to proceed with installing more security fencing along the school in time for the 2013-14 school year.
The fence would run in front of the east wing to the industrial technology building. There would be a passgate allowing drivers the option to come in off U.S. 136.
Another fence would be erected from the industrial technology building to the agriculture building, and another fence would be placed between the west wing and the agriculture building.
That would completely enclose the campus, providing more security.
Amerio said he wants to learn more about how the system failed at Sandy Hook.
“What we’ll have to do when that whole story comes out, the accurate version, that’s when (decisions will be made) in terms of adjustments,” Amerio said.
He said he will present that information to the school board.
“Your first thought is your thoughts and prayers (go) out to the families and then ... your next job as a school administrator is, ‘How did what happen affect our plan and what better can we do to affect our kids?’” Amerio said.
The RTHS superintendent said the school hasn’t had any serious security breaches since he has been there.
“A few years back, seven or eight years ago, we had someone in the building (who wasn’t supposed to be there). But they weren’t doing anything wrong. We looked at how they got in and shored that aspect of our security plan up,” Amerio said.
Fisher Superintendent Barb Thompson said her district has heard from the public. One person asked the board at its monthly meeting last week about school security in the wake of Sandy Hook.
Thompson said Fisher has a team in place that is evaluating and revising (“if necessary”) the district’s current safety and emergency procedures. The evaluation process started at the beginning of the school year.
“That team will continue to consult with local, county and state law enforcement agencies,” Thompson said, adding that the team met with officials from the Normal School District, where a 14-year-old student fired a gun into the ceiling of a school in September. No one was hurt.
Ludlow Superintendent Dru Lobmaster said administrators and staff spoke with the school board about security issues at Thursday’s monthly meeting.
“We’re still addressing parking lot security with cameras,” Lobmaster said. “We’ve got to get our locks changed on our doors.
“Things have changed so much.”
Until a few months ago, the Ludlow school was open. Now, visitors have to be buzzed in.
Lobmaster said thinking changes over time on just what is safe. At one time, experts recommended that the school change its doors and install glass in them. School officials met with Police Chief Joe Navarro, who did a security check, and were informed glass isn’t such a good idea.
Thomasboro Superintendent Bonnie McArthur said every year the school works closely with the town’s police and fire departments “to ensure that our plans are current and appropriate.”
“With the assistance of the police and fire department, we practice our plans every year,” she said.
McArthur said school security was discussed by the school board at last week’s monthly meeting.
“The 1 percent sales tax money is typically used to pay for the building and grounds improvements,” McArthur said. “Each time we accomplish the items on the list, a new list is developed by staff, teachers and board members.”
McArthur said many of the items on the list help improve safety in the building “and in turn the safety of the students.”
“The board is very proactive in providing the school with the resources to improve safety and security for our students,” McArthur said.
PVO’s White said additional security will be on the board’s January agenda.
Among the changes he would like to see are a breezeway to enable staff to see people before they get to the front door at PVO North and PVO Junior High. He said PVO North needs a buzz-in system.
Gifford’s Grimsley said he will sit through a webinar sponsored by the Illinois Principals Association in January on school safety.
“After that we will be working on revising our crisis management plan,” Grimsley said. “This takes a lot of time to get one done and will be revised each year.”
RCS’ Ramage said the district sent out a letter to parents and an email to staff, “and I’ve been in discussion with our resource officer, Kevin Kaiser, to schedule a time to see what he’s learned, see what I’ve learned.”
“There’s a lot of information out there,” Ramage said. “When something like this happens there’s a lot of information that becomes easier to access, and you get the opportunity to see what other schools are doing.”
Fisher’s Thompson said that district’s building principals reviewed procedures with teachers last week.
“Obviously, we need our schools to be safe, and by and large they are,” Thompson said. “Placing full-time security guards in every school/district has a very high price tag, and high-tech security systems are also cost-prohibitive for many districts. Money is an issue. Every district is going to have to determine what works best for its situation.”
Ludlow’s Lobmaster said that school is considering changing its locks so teachers can lock doors from the inside.
“And we’re ... reviewing our crisis plan and updating that,” she said.
Lobmaster said she heard programs during the fall about updated school security, and feels “confident that our security is good.”
F.E. Moran, Champaign, is expected to install security cameras at the school in early January.
“The biggest thing now is to tell students when they see someone not just to let them in,” Lobmaster said. “Teachers brought that to my attention.”