At its Feb. 6 meeting, the Evanston Township High School board will consider granting the Evanston Police Department access to its surveillance camera footage in the event of an emergency.
The move would amend a 2019 intergovernmental agreement between the school district and the city designed “to share public safety resources to better serve the community.” City council already approved its side of the amendment at a meeting Monday, Jan. 23.
According to the drafted amendment (available on page 348 of the Jan. 23 City Council meeting packet) passed by city council and under consideration by the ETHS board, the new agreement would “enable the City Police Department to view real time images created by the ETHS digital cameras on City Police Department Computers.”
The proposed change comes amid heightened safety concerns shared by the city and both Evanston public school districts. During the last two school years at ETHS, three students in two separate incidents were caught with loaded handguns on school property. Last July, a 13-year-old Evanston girl was shot and paralyzed during a backyard birthday party on Fowler Ave.
“It’s on our docket for the Feb. 6 meeting,” ETHS Superintendent Marcus Campbell said at a City-School Liaison Committee meeting held Tuesday night at ETHS. “It’s scary stuff to have to think about and talk about and plan for.”
The proposed amendment could help support a faster and more effective police response in the event of a shooting or other dangerous incident at the high school. In May 2022, a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. In the aftermath of the massacre, investigative journalists at sites like The Texas Tribune found surveillance camera footage revealing police inaction on the scene and a lack of leadership taken on by local law enforcement.
The amendment to Evanston’s agreement between ETHS and the city would only allow the police chief, or someone designated by the police chief, to view security footage “when viewing is necessary for the City Police Department to deter or protect against an imminent and substantial threat that is likely to result in significant bodily harm or damage to School property.”
At Tuesday’s committee meeting, Parks and Recreation Director Audrey Thompson also said that representatives from ETHS and District 65 should be on the city’s crisis response team in the event of an incident.
When it comes to social services and crisis prevention, all three entities, among the city and the two school districts, are often working with the same families, Thompson said.
“We’ve talked about violence prevention, and in the past, the gap has been that District 65 and ETHS have not been a part of our crisis response team, which is an issue,” Thompson said. “So we need to make sure that we are connecting those dots with two school districts, so when something does happen, we can ensure whatever safe passage back to school.”
Tuesday night, city and school officials also discussed ideas for making parks and recreation programs more accessible and equitable moving forward.
Often, especially in the winter, public indoor recreation spaces can be hard to access, District 65 board member Biz Lindsay-Ryan said.
“We need more access to recreation in general, not just summer, but throughout the year, and I’ve heard a lot about how kids have to jump a wall to use a soccer pitch,” First Ward Council Member Clare Kelly said. “I think it would be [great] to talk about ways, maybe partnerships between all three groups here, to see about staffing, about access.”
In one positive development when it comes to bringing parks programming to communities that have not always been able to participate, Thompson announced a plan to sponsor 40 spots in the summer aquatics camp for young people of color participating in Camp Kuumba.
The ETHS water polo coach has also agreed to join the aquatics camp to ensure those students are comfortable in the water and able to join all the activities, according to Thompson.
“We want to diversify our aquatics camp,” she said. “Normally, if you go to the lakefront, we’ve got our white kids at the lakefront and in aquatics camp. … That’s part of our recruitment tactics to make sure that we’re starting now to recruit young people to be lifeguards.”