EPD blocks off traffic to ETHS during a gun-threat lockdown on Dec. 16. (Photo by Adina Keeling)

Last month, Evanston Township High School went into an hours-long lockdown after school security discovered two loaded handguns in students’ backpacks. Now, after claiming they received little information or transparency from the administration, local parents are petitioning for the school board to conduct research into the possibility of installing a weapons detection system at the high school.

The petition, which garnered 200 signatures from other parents and community members over four days this week, asks the board to commit to researching weapons detection before its next meeting on Feb. 7. Additionally, the group is requesting a presentation of research findings at the March board meeting and a discussion for community feedback at the April meeting.

“Our E-Town kids and staff deserve to learn and teach in a safer environment,” the petition states. “We urge the 202 Board to make the right choice for our community and our children and are committed to helping in any way that we can in this endeavor.”

Amy Averbuch, whose son attends ETHS, presented the petition during public comment at January’s board meeting on behalf of parents organizing the demands. Averbuch said she was “really shaken up” by December’s lockdown, adding that she wanted more communication from the school about plans to address the situation and prevent future lockdowns or violence threats.

For Averbuch and other parents who helped write the petition, she says, the lockdown offered an opportunity to confront longstanding issues in the community and make ETHS a safer place for everyone.

“We have kids in the school who carry guns, and obviously Evanston has a bigger problem and the Chicagoland area has a bigger problem with gun safety, but it’s also about why these kids feel that they have to protect themselves in school,” Averbuch said. “Is that even the reason that they’re bringing guns? We haven’t done any participatory research that I’m aware of that’s really hands-on with these kids.”

According to Terri Lydon, a District 65 parent whose son will be an ETHS freshman next year, the group spoke to former school board members who represented District 202 the last time a weapons detection system was proposed. Those board members said the measure did not pass years ago because of concerns about slowing down the flow of students into the school and making the building feel “like a prison,” Lydon told the RoundTable.

But both Averbuch and Lydon said that modern weapons detection systems are not necessarily as invasive as metal detectors, and they do not require people to slow down or empty their pockets when walking through sensors. Regardless, they emphasized that their group simply wants the board to research the effectiveness and viability of such detection systems.

“Our goal is to keep everybody walking in the building safe – the teachers, the staff, all the students,” Lydon said. “Every single student there deserves to be safe and have what we would hope to be a more optimal learning environment because they feel safer in the school. That’s our thing right now: just do the research so we can find out if this will help.”

Both parents also said that one of their goals is preventing students from being expelled for bringing weapons to school. With a weapons-detection system, hopefully no student will feel the need or the desire to carry a gun in their backpack, and they can avoid the repercussions of doing so, according to Averbuch.

Days after the lockdown, Averbuch emailed Pat Savage-Williams, President of the District 202 school board, requesting more information about how the district would address gun issues and work to curb any future problems. Savage-Williams replied with a note saying that the board was investigating solutions that are best for the whole community, but she stopped short of providing any specifics.

Research shows that students who experience trauma from violence threats at school like December’s lockdown are more likely to develop anxiety, depression and other mental disorders as a response to that trauma. According to Lydon and Averbuch, the parents who constructed the petition most want to avoid a situation where students become numb to violence or desensitized to an unhealthy environment. 

“The mental health impacts that we’re seeing from a sustained pandemic – the social isolation, the pull back of positive things that people can engage in with their lives – has no question had a really deleterious impact on people’s mental health, people’s sense of wellbeing,” said Roseanna Ander, Executive Director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab. “And I think that as best we can tell, the population that seems to be feeling those impacts most acutely are adolescents and young adults, and it’s that exact population that is also the same population that is at elevated risk for involvement in things like gun violence.”

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Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

3 replies on “Evanston parents petition for research into a weapons-detection system at ETHS ”

  1. Thanks for your comment Betsy. I agree that we need to increase the availability of social workers and mental health services, and work to address economic and social injustice in our community. This effort needs to be in conjunction with a touch-less and quick weapons detection system to protect all of the students and staff at ETHS. It is up to the BOE to research the systems.

  2. Weapon detection will inevitably increase policing in school. 40 years of research demonstrates that policing in school harms Black and Brown students. A weapon detection system would have a racist effect.

    To improve the safety of all members of our school community, we should increase the availability of social workers and mental health services and work to address economic and social injustice in our community.

    1. Ms. Wilson: I share your desire to increase the availability of social workers and mental health services and to “address economic and social injustice in our community” but consider what would have happened if security personnel had not discovered the two boys with loaded hand guns. What pray tell is a social worker going to do if the boys had decided to use those guns?

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