Area school districts review security in wake of tragedy
By Steve Metsch, Diana Novak and Art Golab Staff Reporters December 14, 2012 8:58PM
Renata Calderon greets her daughter Brooklyn Calderon, 5, after school at Budlong Elementary School in Chicago, Ill., on Friday, December 14, 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 16, 2013 6:12AM
School districts throughout the area were taking a second look at their security plans in the wake of the horrific shootings in Connecticut, but at least one local school official said it’s impossible to guarantee total safety for children.
“If someone is bound and determined to do something like that, it is impossible to prevent it,” said Tim Baldermann, former Chicago Ridge police chief and now superintendent of Union School District 81, which serves parts of Joliet and New Lenox. “All you can do is try to contain it as quickly as possible.”
In Chicago, CPS officials reminded every public school that doors must be locked at all times and identification is required of everyone inside the school.
“We have really solid emergency management plans, one of which includes a scenario for an active shooter,” said Jadine Chou, chief safety and security officer for CPS.
CPS employs more than 1,000 security officers, and all schools have metal detectors available, though not all principals choose to use them.
In the event of a shooter, teachers are instructed to implement a lockdown by locking their doors, turning off the lights and keeping the students quiet and still, Chou said. The schools have worked with the Chicago Police Department to run police drills inside the schools to practice their roles in the lockdowns.
Each principal maintains a crisis manual containing instructions on how to identify and handle students who may be a risk to themselves or others, though “it’s usually left to a counselor or clinician to make that kind of assessment,” Chou said.
But a spokesman for the teachers’ union voiced concerns about the number of social workers and counselors available to the students who need them.
“The people who are most skilled at dealing [with violence like this] have been drastically reduced in our schools,” said union spokesman Jackson Potter.
But what if the shooter is not a student and not an outsider, as in Connecticut?
“Part of the frustration is the security measures we have in place are all designed to keep out someone who is not supposed to be in the building,” said Robert Machak, Superintendant of Evergreen Park Elementary School District 124. “I understand (the shooter) was the son of a teacher, so if you have a relative whom is known to the school or a parent known to the school, you’d let them in.”
Outside Chicago’s Budlong Elementary School in Lincoln Square, parents talked in hushed tones about the Connecticut tragedy as they waited for their kids Friday.
“It was heartbreaking, I teared up, I have a kindergartner here so it kind of hit home,” said parent Renata Calderon. “You don’t feel safe anywhere anymore.”