Highland Park, News

After gun brought to school, HPHS officials slammed for lack of security improvements

Anger, fear and disappointment powered commentary delivered to Highland Park High School leaders a week after a firearm on school grounds caused a lockdown and terror throughout the community.

In response, school security was the lone topic of a special meeting of the Township High School District 113 School Board April 11, when dozens of parents and students filled the board room to listen to and participate in the conversation.

HPHS parent Jenny Harjung told the board that her children are scared to go to school and she is scared to send them. She was one of multiple speakers to suggest metal detectors and more armed security at the school.

“At what point are we going to do something?” Harjung asked. “Are we just going to sit around and wait for something to happen? I don’t understand. At what point are we going to start treating these children like they’re our children and mean everything in the world to us?”

A report of a student with a gun prompted a two-hour lockdown of Highland Park High School the morning of April 4, the same day HPHS students participated in a walkout in protest of gun violence. The walkout began at 10:14 a.m., the time the shooting began during the town’s Fourth of July parade in 2022, when seven people were killed and close to 50 others were shot.

On April 4, at least two Highland Park High School students notified school officials that a classmate was in possession of a firearm at the school, according to an email that day from Dr. Bruce Law, District 113 superintendent.

Freshman Star Hall said April 11 that the School Board needed to hear how “scary it really was” during the lockdown, when students and teachers hid, barricaded entryways and messaged loved ones.

“Why are we waiting until someone gets shot or students to get hurt to do something?” Hall said, who also suggested metal detectors and armed guards. “… There was word of mouth that there was going to be action taken since the Fourth of July shooting to make our community safer and make students feel safer and I feel like no action has really been taken.”

By the time the lockdown ended, at 12:25 p.m. April 4, local police had five students detained for questioning. They then arrested one student and charging the individual with possession of a firearm in a school and disorderly conduct.

Citing privacy laws, D113 Director of Communications Karen Warner did not provide details on student discipline but said the district is “pursuing the greatest disciplinary consequences” allowed by Illinois School Code and the board’s disciplinary policy. The Illinois School Code requires expulsion of at least one year for anyone who brings a weapon to school.

Warner also did not comment if the district is seeking disciplinary action against any other students in relation to the firearm on school grounds April 4.

It is unclear where the arrested juvenile acquired the firearm or why he brought it to the high school. The City of Highland Park did not immediately return a message from The Record.

Multiple parents during the meeting called for Highland Park officials to publicly identify the arrested student. City statements in the wake of the incident said the student is protected by the state’s Juvenile Court Act.

After the public comment, Board President Ken Fishbain began the board’s discussion by reading a letter the School Board sent to HPHS staff. It reads in part:

“As a school district, we’re doing our part. We’re investing resources on special trauma counseling services, investing in additional security, ongoing updates to protocols, coordinating with police. The other things are in hands of other legislators” — referencing stricter gun laws, such as the state’s assault-weapons ban that the district supports.

Board members and Law provided insight on Highland Park High School’s current security measures, which include an armed school resource officer on campus every day, six unarmed members of a security team, and a recently upgraded student and visitor check-in system.

Law also pointed out that not all security strategies can be publicly announced, as to not compromise those strategies.

Law said the district continues to research metal detectors, as well as other security features, and plans to return to the board for further discussion and possible recommendations.

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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