Two recent incidents and threats involving guns have occurred around Evanston Township High School and have, quite rightly, raised parent and community concerns about safety measures at ETHS. The ETHS administration considers the safety of our students and staff to be of paramount importance. For over a decade, ETHS has taken many steps to implement a comprehensive crisis plan that secures the building, trains staff and students, and partners with Evanston police and fire officials to provide a timely and thoughtful response in the event of emergencies or threats of violence. Our Crisis Team meets regularly to discuss ways to improve our safety measures.
On an average school day, here’s what is already in place to monitor the safety of students, staff, parents, and the many visitors who attend events at ETHS:
• A full-time, assigned uniformed Evanston police officer (School Resource Officer) and regular foot patrols around the school, which provide a direct link with the Evanston Police Department
• Over 30 school safety personnel in the building during the day and evening
• 24-hr surveillance-camera coverage throughout the interior and exterior of the property (and ETHS is adding more outside cameras)
• Identification screening of outside visitors through our Lobbyguard system
• Electronic building-lockdown with the capability to lock all exterior doors with the flip of a switch
• Outside lighting behind the school (This spring a designated, supervised area for students to wait for rides after school and in the evenings will be constructed, and lighting will be increased.)
• A published Safety Hotline (1-888-214-4445) for people, in school and out, to leave anonymous tips or provide information of suspected threats with our safety staff
Whenever an emergency or threat exists, our school Crisis Team (administrators, School Resource Officer, counselors, and social workers) rapidly determines our response. To prepare for such events, ETHS holds periodic crisis/lockdown drills in cooperation with local police and fire officials on a yearly basis. These drills help prepare the staff and students to respond to potential dangers such as bomb threats or fire or natural disasters.
Our long-term response to crises, be they perpetrator-based or natural disasters, may vary because each event is unique. However, the common thread among them is the need for an increased police presence in various forms and prompt communication with the school community. Evanston police and ETHS continually meet to review procedures and make adjustments as necessary.
Sadly, gun violence and bomb threats in schools have become headline news over the past few years. A school of over 3,000 students and staff will have security threats from time to time. There is no school profile or demographic that suggests where violence may occur. The harsh reality of school-related gun violence is that adults or students who resort to this type of behavior have social and emotional dysfunctions that no amount of security can completely pedict.
Advance information can help thwart a crisis, however, and here parents, students and the community can play an important role. People who are alert and who report concerns immediately to ETHS can help prevent a potential emergency. ETHS’s Safety Hotline was set up for just this purpose.
In addition, parents who monitor their student’s whereabouts and communication with friends, have regular conversations with their child, check e-mail and text messages and visit their child’s bedroom regularly can learn about problem behaviors before they become major issues. We want to support parents who need help opening lines of communication with their child. Parent orientation programs that let parents know about school resources are being developed. Professional counselors and social workers at ETHS will also provide parents with assistance.
Technology has also helped ETHS rapidly communicate with staff and students inside the building and parents and community outside the school when crisis events occur. Where before we could only send out letters to parents after the fact, now, in an instant, we can let the school community (including the media) know what’s happening by intercom (in-school), automated calls to homes and cell phones, e-mail blasts, and web-site notices. Rapid communication can dispel rumors and fear by providing everyone with accurate, timely information. We are committed to letting parents and the community know the facts as soon as we can when a crisis event or threat takes place.
The exceptional resources of police, technology and crisis planning at ETHS have proven to be a great asset to the positive security profile of our school. We are determined to do all we can to minimize the risk of danger and prevent violence at ETHS.