After months of outcry from students and parents for stricter security measures, Township High School District 113 board members agreed on Tuesday night to move forward with enhanced safety measures for its two high schools: Highland Park and Deerfield.
A weapons-detection system for HPHS highlights 10 safety recommendations and expenditures to be implemented starting this upcoming school year, thanks to decisions by the D113 School Board during a Committee of the Whole Meeting on Aug. 8.
The weapons-detection system was removed from the safety plan and considered as a separate item, passing with a 3-2 vote with Board President Dan Struck abstaining and member Rick Heineman absent.
“I’m not in a place where I feel comfortable voting yes but I’m not going to vote to block what I think is a very, very sincere and responsible position taken by (Superintendent Dr. Bruce Law),” Struck said.
Secretary Jodi Shapira voted in favor of the motion through tears.
Vice President Anne Neumann voted against the weapon-detection system.
“As it’s probably clear, what’s informing my decisions are the experts who have said that you’ve put this type of system in when there’s community violence,” Neumann said. “And April 4 was not an example of community violence, which is proven by the local experts as well as the polling of the students and the staff who both believed it was an isolated incident.”
The weapons detection recommendation was just one part of the safety plan, which officials estimate will cost $3.18 million and also includes entryway and classroom card readers, security film on exterior glass ($273,000), and a security operations center ($240,000). The weapons detection system is projected to cost up to $80,000, or 2.5 percent of the plan’s overall cost, while the card readers — on doorways throughout the district — make up the bulk of the expenditures at an estimated $2.48 million.
The plan, created by district staff, is broken up into four layers of mitigation to attempt to prevent incidents of gun violence. It looks at the culture and climate of the district’s schools, the preparedness of schools in anticipating incidents, access limitations to school buildings, and crisis response techniques.
Law said that the most the district can do in preparations is manage the risks.
“There is no way to ensure that we can eliminate risk; it’s not possible,” said Law. “We would love to do that. There is no school that can do that.”
Since, district parents and students have criticized the district for its lack of safety improvements in the wake of the 2022 Highland Park shooting. A survey of district families and staff showed that more than 75 percent supported weapons-detection systems.
According to Law on Tuesday, climate and culture is the most effective layer of mitigation in preventing students from bringing weapons to school. This requires cultivating an environment in which every student feels included and has an adult to whom they feel comfortable talking
The first two safety measures in the recommended safety plan were to fund “clubs for students in no club or sport” and the implementation of “curriculum for homeroom that fosters student-to-student relationships and student-to-staff relationships.
“My goal and hope and desire, which I believe is shared, is not to stop the gun when it’s at our weapons detection system, but stop it from ever even evening crossing the mind of the student that is even thinking about it,” Board Member Jaime Barraza said.
A weapons detection system uses sensors and AI technology to differentiate weapons for other items as students will step through a detector. The School Board will consider system providers at a future meeting.
The board approved this system to be implemented at a small-scale at some point during the school year. The schools will use detectors at entrances in a pop-up method, according to the presentation.
The approved plan did not include the district’s recent hiring of an armed security director, which was approved by the board earlier this year. The district announced Tuesday that it hired Amy Oliva for the position. Oliva is a former police officer and more recently has worked with high schools in Waukegan and Round Lake.
The district is already supported by an armed school resource officers and an unarmed security team that was bolstered in 2022.
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Rosie Newmark is a 2023 Record intern and an incoming senior studying journalism and history at Northwestern University. Rosie has written for multiple campus publications in addition to the Hyde Park Herald and American Libraries Magazine.