Township High School District 113 officials on Tuesday, May 30, continued to discuss enhanced security and safety measures at both of the district’s schools, and “no option is off the table,” according to district leadership.
District 113 board president Dan Struck opened the board of education meeting by reading a statement addressing recent criticism of the district’s security measures nearly two months after a student brought a firearm to Highland Park High School, causing a two-hour lockdown on April 4.
“Any suggestion that the 113 board and administration do not take security seriously is personally offensive,” Struck said. “ … Sitting on the board, each of us embrace the fact that our high schools are central to the lives of our shared communities. It is deplorable to suggest that any of us on this board are callous toward the safety of any of the children in our schools.”
Struck defended the district’s approach to security by noting that it within the past year it spent funds on enhanced communications, coordination, detection and monitoring systems, additional security staff, enhancing its school resource officer coverage and more.
Outside the district’s administrative offices in Highland Park prior to the meeting, approximately 20 people gathered to say the district’s efforts are not enough and urged the School Board to support metal detectors and additional armed security guards at D113 schools.
The rally was organized by an advocacy group operating as Parents for Securing Our Schools. Several public commenters who supported heightened safety measures donned yellow shirts at the meeting with the group’s name. Group organizers Suzanne Wahl, Enrique Perez and Jenny Harjung all addressed the board during public comment, as well.
The board “will continue to approve expenditures for enhanced security and safety measures consistent with the best available guidance,” Struck said during the meeting, adding that the district is “considering the available options and no option is off the table.”
Struck did not provide specifics on potential enhancements, saying “security is an appropriate topic for closed session and it would make little sense to provide a roadmap to the multilayered levels of security employed by 113 in open session.”
District 113 Superintendent Dr. Bruce Law was absent from the meeting because of a family emergency, Struck said.
The board president, however, did note that the district is “testing the feasibility of one of those security measures on an ongoing basis.”
“The board and administration are committed to basing their decisions on the best available security studies in governmental, law enforcement and expert guidance,” he said. “The actions taken by 113 will be based on the best available factual information and research.”
The district’s most notable option, as previously reported by The Record, is to add weapons-detection systems or metal detectors.
The district recently released a survey to gather more insight and feedback on the community’s feelings toward the potential of metal detectors or weapons-detection systems in Highland Park and Deerfield High Schools.
Jim Hobart — a representative from Public Opinion Strategies, the firm that conducted the survey and gathered input — presented the results to board members May 30, reporting that the survey received 1,286 responses over eight days. Hobart told board members that the response was high and the firm was confident the survey data was representative of the district’s community.
Survey data showed significant community support for weapons-detection systems as the preferred method of added security measures over metal detectors.
Seventy-seven percent of participants responded in favor of the systems, which the question said “scan for weapons but allow for faster entry.”
When asked about installing metal detectors, which the survey noted would “require people to remove belts and empty their pockets of keys, phones, etc.,” 45 percent of participants responded positively.
Seventy-five percent agreed with a question asking if metal detectors or a weapons-detection system would make them feel safer, with just over 70 percent of the students, nearly 80 percent of parents and 61 percent of district staff in agreement.
The board and community members devoted significant discussion to a survey question that asked about new security measures at every entrance, which, according to the question, “could require cutting funding for extracurricular activities such as performing arts programs, visual arts programs, or athletics.”
Forty percent of participants responded in favor of this question while 60 percent answered in opposition. Hobart described it as a “rubber meets the road” question, saying that it’s common in public opinion polling for supportive respondents to also express hesitancy with funding.
The district did not provide any funding information about added security measures or extracurricular activities that it says may be impacted.
Board members also discussed safety and security with consultant Paul Timm, the director of education safety at Allegion, a company specializing in building security. Timm told the board he’s conducted roughly 2,000 school security assessments since 1999.
The board asked Timm about the pros and cons of weapons-detection systems, the reasons schools enhance safety measures, the best perceived deterrents and more.
Fourteen members of the public addressed the board during the public-comment portion of the meeting. Nine commenters expressed varying levels of support for the district adding either metal detectors, weapons-detection systems, more armed security guards or all three, and four district residents urged the board against these measures.
Wahl, a founder of Parents SOS that rallied outside prior to the meeting, asked for immediate action.
“Do your job,” Wahl said. “Protect my daughter and all our children before it is too late. No more lockdowns for our family, and no more tragedies for our community.”
Sheldon Langer, who said he’s been a resident of Highland Park since 1983, pushed the board to be proactive.
“Have something in place just in case,” he said. “What is the problem with that?”
A few commenters shared displeasures about the survey sent out, calling the question about extracurricular funding misleading and the data unreliable.
Several speakers also used public-comment time to note the security that was in place for the board’s meeting — but there was more to that story.
Prior to entering the district offices, attendees were wanded with a portable metal detector and the bags and belongings of some were checked. Multiple police officers were present before, during and after the board’s session.
District 113 Director of Communications Karen Warner said the added security was in response to reports of armed individuals who would attend the meeting. The district reportedly contacted police and postponed the board’s recognition of three groups.
Highland Park High School students were on hand and addressed the board Tuesday, expressing adamant opposition against metal detectors and weapons-detection systems.
“These systems do not serve their intended purpose and taking money away from our arts and athletics would be a great misappropriation,” said Anna Neblo, a junior at HPHS. “As a student-athlete and as an artist, I passionately agree and I also firmly believe that these systems will provide us with a false sense of security.
“If the district wants to invest that money in violence prevention in our community, I applaud them but respectfully encourage that they seek the root of the issue, not the fruit of it.”
Neblo also said that she and several of her classmates have concerns that these measures will lead to “discriminatory treatment within our institution.”
“I predict that these systems will be applied differently across the student body in ways that do not promote the overall safety of our community but serve to stigmatize and burden students unjustly,” she said. “I don’t want to live and go to school in a community that creates invidious distinctions between us.”
Spencer Sabath, a recent graduate of HPHS, referred to metal detectors as performative solutions and pleaded with the board to “follow the facts.”
“We’ve tried for 330 days to be HP strong but Highland Park’s wounds have slashed too deep for many of us to hold out hope, to convince ourselves that our remaining strength has not been spent,” he said. “And on these wounds, the empty promises and safety and security posed by metal detectors only draw further blood and sear us deeper.”
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Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.