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On Friday morning, Evanston Township High School District 202 announced a newly planned partnership with consulting firm Facility Engineering Associates to conduct a full security assessment of the building and its facilities in the coming months, according to a press release from the district’s communications office.

The contract with FEA still needs official approval from the District 202 School Board, but ETHS officials are expected to recommend the security review plan to board members at their next meeting Monday, Feb. 7.

This plan also comes as ETHS administrators face pressure to address security concerns in the wake of the gun-threat lockdown at the high school on Dec. 16. Staff members discovered two loaded handguns in students’ backpacks that day, triggering an hours-long lockdown that sparked confusion and panic among students, teachers and parents.

“The results of the assessment and analysis will be used to develop a unique plan based on the needs and priorities of ETHS,” Friday morning’s press release stated. “The project will launch in February and will include site visits to the ETHS campus. FEA will evaluate a wide range of areas from facilities to response plans and will make recommendations about the ways that ETHS can deter, detect, delay, and respond to crisis situations through a systems level approach.”

Last week, the RoundTable reported on a petition that a group of parents, who call themselves Evanston for Safe Schools, had circulated and sent to the school board. That petition garnered more than 200 signatures in four days before the group sent it to district administrators. In the list of requests included in the petition, Evanston for Safe Schools asked for the board to facilitate research into the possibility of installing a weapons detection system outside the school building.

“We are very happy that Dr. Witherspoon has announced that ETHS will enlist FEA to evaluate security at the school as well as develop a plan based on our unique needs,” Terri Lydon, a local parent supporting the petition effort, told the RoundTable. “This is what we were hoping would happen and the focus of the petition executed by Evanston for Safe Schools. We look forward to hearing the findings of the research and learning from the experts regarding how to ensure the safety of everyone at ETHS.”

Lydon and Amy Averbuch, another Evanston parent and petitioner, have emphasized that they primarily want ETHS to commit to researching safety practices and strategies that will work best for the local community, whether that means installing a weapons detection system or not. The fact that students are bringing guns to school demonstrates the need for a change in how ETHS approaches safety and security in both the community and in the school building, according to Lydon and Averbuch.

“I am encouraged by this movement, and I feel supported and thankful that my voice, and other community member’s voices, are being heard,” Averbuch said. “I am hopeful that the district will also collaborate with outside resources to address overall violence for those students in need.”

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...

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