The first day of school after the Sandy Hook school massacre brought a wave of fear, worry and outright threats to Chicago-area communities as educators and police sought to reassure people that efforts to protect their children would be redoubled.
Patch reached out to La Grange and Western Springs area superintendents to ask about how local school districts were responding, and spoke with both District 95 super Dr. Mark Kuzniewski and District 105 super Dr. Glenn Schlichting.
Both superintendents struck similar notes: the schools all have detailed security plans in place that are reviewed and practiced on a regular basis, they have made counselors available for both staff and students in need, and they are trying to maintain a normal school routine.
“We know that all the research shows that a normal routine is what kids need to move forward,” Kuzniewski said. “We know there is no plan that can totally prevent a random act of senseless violence like this one, [but] we are taking every precaution necessary to make sure that students are safe.”
Kuzniewski said that the D95 administrative team has met to review their practices, and that additional staff were out on the playgrounds this week to provide a reassuring adult presence for students.
Schlichting noted that D105 schools have recently undergone physical security improvements, including a more secure visitor-entrance system, a system to instantly notify police if necessary and exterior security cameras. He also said that the security plan was up for a January review, which could take into consideration any lessons from the tragedy.
“We place the safety of our students every day as our top priority and that we invest heavily in our relationships, our school climate, our trust levels, because we know that’s really where safety begins,” Schlichting said, highlighting the communication with families that D105 offered over the weekend.
“The most important aspect of safety in a school environment is really the existence of open, trusting relationships, where kids, parents, staff will share concerns and where people feel valued and respected.”
Parents and educators everywhere were talking about school security even as incidents locally in the last three days underscored potential vulnerability. Here's a glimpse of what's taken place in the past few days.
In Downers Grove, parents discovered that schoolhouse doors were unlocked and flooded the district with calls. The school district decided to lock the doors this week and install temporary buzzers. Administrators will consider installing an advanced system. A buzzer and badge system is already in place at Glen Ellyn schools.
In Oak Lawn, police reviewed security procedures at public schools and parochial schools, and school officials were looking at the entry and exit doors to see what more could be done to prevent an intruder from entering the buildings.
In Clarendon Hills, rumors of a "kill list" brought to school by a middle school student prompted an investigation.
Elmhurst saw an increased police presence at schools, with . At York High School, entry and exit will be restricted to two doorways. And any student who opens a door for anyone will face disciplinary action, administrators told Patch.
A high school student in Elmhurst, however, told the school board that the security measures wouldn't prevent anything. School security isn't the issue said senior Anna Hovorka.
"Security isn't the matter at hand," she said. "The shooter had a mental illness. I think the School District needs to consider the fact that there are many students in our School District who have mental illnesses who are not seen or considered. The matter at hand is that that is who is a danger if anything were to happen."
Arrests and Threats
A trio of threats in the south suburbs underscored the raw nerves felt by many parents, with a police manhunt, a threat to shoot school children and another threat to kill school administrators.
Fears heightened Tuesday afternoon in the Tinley Park area as . Schools in Tinley Park and Oak Forest went on lockdown during the search, and schools in nearby Frankfort and Mokena went on soft lockdown, keeping the children inside during recess. Police officers were at the schools when classes ended for the day.
An arrest warrant was issued Tuesday for a former Lincoln-Way High School teacher accused of telephoning his former bosses in New Lenox earlier this month and threatening to kill them. Ryan Gardner, 40, checked himself into a mental health ward at a Chicago hospital, however, he could have checked himself out at any time. He faces felony charges.
The arrest warrant was forwarded to the police department at University of Illinois Hospital, said Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow. When he is released from care, he will be taken to jail. Glasgow said the mass murder in Newtown, CT, made this case more urgent for him.
"In light of what happened in Connecticut, we have to be at a heightened level," he said.
Meanwhile, in Palos Hills, a man arrested on DUI charges early Monday morning . Police went to 31-year-old Michael Lynch's Palos Hills home and confiscated his firearms and ammunition.
The governor said the Illinois State Board of Education, the Illinois State Police, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, and other state agencies will review school safety programs throughout the state.
More Guns or Gun Control?
Talked of increased security at schools also includes suggestions to arm teachers and others who work in the hallways. Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, said schools should hire armed security guards and give teachers guns and weapons training.
"Somebody has to be there that can stop (an attacker) at that moment," Pearson said.
However, several lawmakers have changed their positions on gun control measures. And others, including the mayor of Chicago, say now is a crucial moment for our nation to enact a ban on automatic weapons.