At the District 65 School Board’s March 20 meeting, Andalib Khelghati, Assistant Superintendent of Schools, gave an overview of District 65’s emergency planning, including its preparedness in the event an active shooter is in the schools. 

“Safety is our greatest concern,” said Superintendent Paul Goren in introducing the topic. “It’s never more ever present than over the last couple of months, the last couple of years as we have faced several tragedies in schools across the country.

“We on a regular basis have very specific plans, very specific drills, very specific procedures,” Dr. Goren added. “As we move forward we are actually expanding those to include more instant alert systems, and active training as it relates to the potential for, heaven forbid, a shooter in our District or somebody who’s causing such extreme trouble or threat.”

Mr. Khelghati said, “We are always thinking about this, and our principals are always thinking about this.”

He added that the Evanston Police Department and Evanston Fire Department “have been incredible partners in really thinking how do we accelerate and develop the efficiencies to be prepared for any crisis. They’re thinking about this as much for us, as we’re thinking about how we partner with them.”

Each principal and school staff prepares a crisis management plan for their building that designates where students will go, and the routes they will take, in the event of various types of emergencies, said Mr. Khelghati. The  plan also sets out the responsibilities of various staff members during an evacuation. It contains blueprints of the building, and contact information for the EPD and EFD to use in the event of an emergency.

Throughout the school year, each school conducts three fire drills, one bus evacuation drill, one disaster/severe weather drill, one intruder lockdown drill, and two drills where students who are outside the building go back into the building to move away from an outside threat. 

Currently the strategy in an intruder – or an active shooter – situation is for students and staff “to be as quiet and invisible as possible,” said Mr. Khelghati. “The whole point of this is almost in some way to evade the intruder’s ability to access people.

“One of the immediate priorities is to adopt a different response to a shooter situation,” said Mr. Khelghati, and he said administrators have  recently decided to adopt the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) model to use in an active shooter situation. He said ALICE is one of the most accepted methods for these highly challenging situations.

 “The most important thing in the ALICE training model is to make sure that the training is helping the adults to be prepared to shepherd and protect our children,” Mr. Khelghati said. “We’re really expecting our adults to have the flexibility of mind to be prepared to respond in a dynamic way in an active shooter situation.”

In some instances, he said, the best option may be to keep children locked down in a classroom. If the situation permits, an adult may decide that the best option is to move the children to a different location, perhaps outside the building.

The ALICE training, which is done in partnership with the EPD, prepares an adult to be more reflective and responsive to a situation.

Dr. Goren said, “If there is an active shooter on one of our campuses, the police will be there, the SWAT team will be there, and they will be doing their job. Part of the ALICE training involves how to move as fast as possible, given the responsibilities of the police in these high pressured situations.”

Another emergency response that the District is prepared for is to relocate students to another site. There is a primary and secondary relocation site for each school, said Mr. Khelghati. If a relocation becomes necessary, staff know which rooms students will be evacuated to, who will provide support services, and where a command center will be located.

The District is making a number of changes to improve effectiveness and safety during emergencies, including improving the ability to communicate by using a Crisis Go APP and Walkie Talkies, providing EPD and EFD with access protocols and key cards for quick access to the buildings, running through tabletop drills with EPD and EFD, and preparing a parent emergency guide.

The District is also focusing on routine safety in the schools. One thing Mr. Khelghati emphasized is that staff are encouraged to wear IDs. Because each visitor is required to wear a visitor pass, an intruder may stand out.

He added the District is also looking at a system that would speed up the process of giving visitor passes, this might include “some background checks.” He said, “We don’t want to dissuade families from entering the building, but we want to prevent anyone who might do harm from entering the building.”

Board member Joseph Hailpern raised a concern that a background check might raise barriers for some people to enter the building, if they had some minor infraction in the past. Several other Board members raised similar concerns, mentioning that undocumented persons might be deterred.

Raphael Obafemi, Chief Financial Officer, said under the School Code, the District is required to protect children from second offenders, people who have committed serious crimes against children, and people involved in child custody issues. He said these would be the things the District would be checking; and if a person’s background did not involve those things, they would not be prevented from going into a school.

Dr. Goren said citizenship status would not be a factor. He added, “We hear the concerns,” and said administrators would review what Evanston Township High School was doing when it issued visitor passes.

 He added, “We want people to be welcome in the schools.”

Board President Suni Kartha said, “No one is disputing the need to keep certain people away from children.” She said the District needed to do it in a way to accomplish that, without discouraging other people from coming into the schools.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...