Chicago-area schools step up security precautions post-Sandy Hook

January 7, 2013 2:45:21 PM PST
Many Chicago-area school children returned to class Monday for the first time since the deadly shooting in Connecticut.

Some schools are increasing security following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown.

In Calumet City, security was stepped up inside Dirksen Middle School.

And, in Niles, the police department increased patrols around schools throughout the village. The patrols involve both marked and unmarked police vehicles.

Dolton District 149 is a grade school district in the midst of a significant makeover. The former Dirksen Middle School, long on academic probation, has now been subdivided into three separate schools, each with its own focus. That's the educational change.

On the security front, Monday was Day One at Dirksen for metal detectors, though their implantation had been planned long before the tragedy in Connecticut.

"It was kind of awkward, but it'll work because you don't want kids bringing guns and knives to the school," said Dolton District 149 student Ronde Powell.

How to find the best marriage of education and security is not easy. Dolton District 149 made the decision to ratchet up security before the start of this school year.

"This was well before Sandy Hook," said Jones District 149 Superintendent Shelly Davis. "What Sandy Hook did for us was seal the deal."

The deal at Dirksen middle school in the past was too many inappropriate items coming into the building: the occasional replica BB gun, pocket knives, lighters and the like.

Still, there was long-held concern that moving in metal detectors for middle school students might send the wrong message.

"But now the times are different," said Jones. "The world is changing. We're not worried about how that looks. We're worried about making sure we put every precautionary step in place to make sure our students are safe while they are here."

The district has doubled the number of security guards at its grade schools and middle school campus, which is now three separate schools. It has added an array of surveillance cameras and doubled its overall budget for security.

But metal detectors at the middle school level?

"They're preparing them for the future, whatever the future may be," said Annie Powell, the grandmother of a student. "Anywhere you go now you have to go through the metal detectors."

"If we can avoid one incident, it's worth every dollar we've spent," said Dolton District 149 Deputy Superintendent Dr. Alicia Geddis. Our children are priceless and they're worth it.

No one at District 149 suggests that metal detectors are the stopper to an active shooter event, but the school board believes that their presence helps create a more secure learning environment.

Monet Forte'-Wilson, a parent of a primary school student in the district, does not believe that. She says the metal detectors create an atmosphere of mistrust and the money for them could be better spent on other things. She is a candidate for the school board up against three incumbents.