ETHS Principal and incoming Superintendent Marcus Campbell addresses board members Monday, May 9. Credit: ETHS District 202 YouTube

After outside consultants reviewed the Evanston Township High School building’s safety and security, school officials have decided not to install metal detectors or a weapons detection system at the entrances, said Principal and incoming Superintendent Marcus Campbell at Monday night’s meeting of the District 202 School Board. 

In December 2021, just before winter break, ETHS went into a gun-threat lockdown for several hours after a school resource officer found two loaded handguns in the backpacks of students caught smoking marijuana in a bathroom that morning. In the months following the incident, a group of parents circulated a petition asking for the school board to look into the viability of a weapons detection system at ETHS. 

This winter, the board hired Facility Engineering Associates to assess the ETHS campus’ security. The company analyzed the physical school grounds and conducted interviews with employees.

Paul Timm, Vice President of Physical Security Services for FEA, met with board members during a closed executive session Monday night to discuss the results of the safety report. 

Superintendent Eric Witherspoon said during the public portion of Monday’s meeting that the board first met with Timm behind closed doors because the district did not want to compromise the confidentiality of its safety and security plan for the school building.

According to Campbell, metal detectors do not present the best option for improving school safety at ETHS because they are “easily bypassed” and past law enforcement research has shown that schools are safest when they build a culture of trust and support for students and staff members. 

“Metal detectors do not serve as a preventive measure against school violence, and ETHS cannot give the impression that a solution has been given to a problem that would still exist,” Campbell said. “But we can take steps to make sure that ETHS is a safer school and a just and equitable learning environment for all students, and we will do this with empathy and compassion for the students and staff who come to this building every day.”

Following Campbell’s comments, Associate Principal for Educational Services Keith Robinson and Director of Safety Matthew Driscoll presented some of the security improvements recommended by FEA and explained how Timm and the rest of his team conducted the report.

According to Robinson, engineers and other representatives from FEA walked around the ETHS campus and talked to school leaders, and also conducted stress tests to see how the current school security plans respond to crisis situations or building intruders.

For example, FEA employees showed up at ETHS unannounced one time to see how easily they could enter the building or get past the existing security infrastructure. 

“We want to be tested. We want to be evaluated. We want to see if the measures we’re putting in place are effective, and they are,” Driscoll said. “The recommendations that we have are more to strengthen and enhance what we already have in place, so that was very pleasing to hear.”

In its assessment of ETHS security, FEA looked at four different areas: deterrence, detection, delay and response.

Among other things, the report recommended more signs on doors, in hallways and in bathrooms to remind students and staff of prohibited contraband items, evacuation plans and the map of the building.

Additionally, FEA’s report highlighted the usefulness of a schoolwide emergency text system that could be used to quickly communicate with students and staff in the event of a lockdown, intruder or other crisis.

Driscoll also added that FEA suggested locking all doors in unsupervised areas throughout the day, using handheld metal detectors when necessary and training all designated responders in first aid, CPR and the use of automatic external defibrillators, which can provide lifesaving treatment for people going through cardiac arrest. 

“All high schools have safety concerns, and we live in a time when school safety must be the highest priority,” Campbell said. “As we consider our next steps, I want to make sure we ask ourselves ‘What is the best approach for ETHS?’ What is right for ETHS, for our students and for our staff may not be right for others. Everything we do sends a message about who we are, what we value and how we function.”

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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