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After tragedy, local schools, police review their safety procedures

Updated: January 17, 2013 6:33AM

Waiting outside May Watts Elementary School in Naperville Friday, Jill Brown said she feels her first-grader’s school is secure.

“The first thing that came to mind was (the school’s) video system. Right now, they buzz you in,” she said.

But in the Connecticut tragedy Friday, where the shooter was reportedly related to a staff member, Brown said it’s impossible to know exactly who the school may be letting in.

“So what are your options? To not let anyone in during school hours, ever?” she asked. “If they’re not safe at school, where are kids safe?”

The same questions were the minds of Plainfield parents Friday, where schools were fielding questions about safety in schools, said Plainfield school district spokesman Tom Hernandez.

In light of the tragedy, Plainfield police have decided to step up their patrols around the school next week, recognizing the sad possibility that copycat crimes could happen anywhere, Hernandez said.

“We have not received any kind of threat or even the hint of a problem,” Hernandez said. “The police are doing this only as a precaution.”

Elgin Police Chief Jeffrey Swoboda coordinated with the superintendents in school districts U46 and 301 to develop a school plan for Monday. Because parents may be uneasy following Friday’s tragedy in Connecticut, Swoboda directed all police available to be in uniform and present at schools on Monday, said Cmdr. Glenn Theriault.

Somonauk Superintendent Dawn Green said the tragedy prompted an emergency meeting of the district’s administrators Friday.

“We’re meeting after school to discuss how we can strengthen our procedures, within reason,” she said.

At most local schools, administrators said Friday that school doors are always locked, school staff is aware of visitors and diligently confirms the reason for their visit. School districts update their crisis plan annually.

“We don’t have varying degrees of locked down; our schools are always locked down,” said St. Charles spokesman Jim Blaney.

In St. Charles, every classroom has a copy of the district’s emergency plan so teachers — or substitutes — will be ready for a weather emergency or an intruder scenario.

Oswego schools spokesman Kristine Liptrot said that district officials will look at the facts of the tragedy to examine if there are tactical lessons that can be addressed in their schools. But the No. 1 deterrent to senseless tragedies in schools will remain the same, she said: a student speaking up.

“If we learned anything this week in dealing with our own rumors and situations, we’ve learned parents and students are not afraid to speak up,” she said. “We cannot act on any issue if we don’t know it’s there.”

Batavia Superintendent Jack Barshinger said that security procedures at the elementary school level have been a topic of conversation in the district for a few weeks.

While visitors at Batavia high school and middle schools must have their ID scanned at the entrance, Batavia elementary schools have yet to implement that practice. Barshinger said the elementary campuses will put that in place soon.

West Aurora schools Superintendent Jim Rydland said the tragedy is also a reminder for parents to update contact information with the schools.

“In the event of an emergency, it will be important that we can call communicate quickly and effectively,” Rydland said.

Correspondent Janelle Walker contributed to this story.

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