Oak Lawn’s public and parochial students returned to school on Monday to an increased police presence around local campuses on their first day back at school since last week's Connecticut school shootings.
“The increased police presence was at all of our buildings just to serve as reassurance for our families,” Oak Lawn-Hometown Dist. 123 spokesman Ben Grey said.
While students eased back into schoolwork and met with counselors, school administrators around Oak Lawn were reviewing building security, particularly external doors, to see if anything more could be done to prevent a possible shooter from entering their respective buildings.
The horrific Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings that left 20 children and six adults dead also dominated the weekend’s conversation on the Moms of Oak Lawn Facebook group. Jittery parents tried to seek out information from each other about security policies at their children’s schools.
“My kids are in district 122...Does anyone know if the cost of metal detectors or other forms of security have been looked into? I wouldn't mind doing some research to see if it is doable. Anyone interested?"
“In order to enter Columbus Manor, you need to be buzzed into the office and then buzzed again to enter the school's hallways. But that's it. If I had a gun hiden somewhere, it would be buzzed in with me!”
“Any mom's on here send your kids to [parochial school]? These were not questions I asked when we took the tour, I was focused on education and viewing the class rooms, I didn't even think about asking them what they had for safety.”
“Any word about Harnew Elementary?”
“I’d like to know about Kolb also?”
Most of Oak Lawn’s public and parochial schools sent information to parents as events unfolded in Connecticut on Friday, explaining their district’s or school's respective security polices and practices.
D123 outlined the district’s safety practices, including annual training for faculty and staff on how to respond to a violent situation in their school building. The district's five grammar schools are also equipped with video surveillance, and has been working with the Oak Lawn Police Department to connect the surveillance with Oak Lawn authorities.
Oak Lawn Community High School began the school day Monday with a moment of silence for the Sandy Hook victims.
“Teachers were provided resources and suggestions for how to handle student questions and concerns regarding the tragedy at Sandy Hook School,” D229 Superintendent and OLCHS Principal Dr. Michael Riordan said by email.
This past summer, the high school installed a secured check-in area, so that visitors can enter the building, but are held in a secure space so that a greeter can check an ID and issue a visitor’s pass prior to having access into the school.
In addition, OLCHS has installed 92 new cameras in doorways, hallways, parking lots, and other key areas within the school building.
And as recently as Dec. 4, Riordan said that the high school conducted a mock lockdown so that staff and students would be familiar with the process and prepared in the event of a real lockdown.
“We will be discussing some additional door security measures with our Board of Education at next month’s meeting,” Riordan said.
Richards High School has similar measures in place and sent a letter to parents on Friday, attached to this article.
Ridgeland Dist. 122 also posted a message to parents on its website, assuring families that the district was on top of security.
D122 Actiing Superintendent Julie Shelberg explained that district officials meet regularly with the Oak Lawn and Bridgeview Police and Fire Departments on how to react to violence in the school setting, including having an active shooter in the school.
“Students practice lock down and shelter-in-place drills in response to dangerous situations in school, such as an active shooter either inside or outside of the school,” Shellberg said in her message to parents.
St. Germaine School Principal Kevin Reedy said that parochial schools follow the same procedures and regulations set forth by the Illinois State Board of Education. This includes holding a minimum of three fire drills (St. Germaine conducts about eight), and two tornado and lockdown drills during the school year, in compliance with the Illinois School Safety Drill Act.
A lockdown drill means that students and teachers “shelter in place” and get as far away from the door as possible. According to news reports, Sandy Hook teachers moved students away from classroom doors that locked from the inside, and barricaded doors with bookshelves from the shooter.
“We have an entry system at the front door and a camera that let’s us know whose out there,” Reedy said. “No one can enter without us buzzing them in. All the other doors are locked from the inside. We do all of the standard things.”
Reedy said that the Sandy Hook tragedy invited school officials to see what could be improved in their building security and where schools may have grown lax.
The St. Germaine principal said the school would be reviewing with students its policy of never letting anyone into the school building, even if they know them.
“I don’t care if a teacher doesn’t have her key," Reedy said. "She has to walk around the building to the office and be let back in. We’re going to review that and be more vigilant about telling kids not to open the door for anyone.”