VALORIE EVERSOLE - Daily Union Reporter
SHELBYVILLE, IL. —
Following the tragic events at a Connecticut elementary school last month, schools across the nation are accessing their security measures.
Findlay and Bethany community members questioned school administration and area law enforcement personnel about school security in a 2 1/2 hour forum Wednesday evening.
Also attending the event were State Representative Adam Brown and State Senator Chapin Rose, and Bethany mayor Barb Meador.
Okaw Valley superintendent Joel Hackney told the audience that administration and law enforcement have been meeting and walking through the district’s buildings following the recent school shooting in Connecticut.
“Besides education, our primary responsibility if to ensure the safety of our students,” Hackney said.
“We have a crisis plan in place that is reviewed annually. We reviewed it again in light of recent events,” he added. “There are steps we need to take to keep people who should not be in our buildings out.”
Illinois State Trooper Jeff Denning noted that rapid response teams include not only police officers but also fire and emergency medical personnel.
“It’s something we continually train for. It’s a difficult thing to train for. There are a lot of facets to be considered,” Denning said.
Findlay police chief Chris Nichols said that he has attended numerous training exercises to be prepared for a crisis.
“We learned a lot of lessons from Columbine and incoporated them into our training,” he said. “The important thing is for us to be able to respond and know how to respond.”
“Do you want school to be a jail or have openness? This is what we want to hear from you,” Nichols said.
The audience did just that - addressing issues of bullying, those being medically treated for ADHD or depression, unlocked doors, unmonitored entryways, unsecured windows, security for children outside for recess, and arming personnel.
Elementary School principal Doug McCausland noted that the school is on soft lock-down at all times.
“We’ve talked about a buzzer system and are looking to expand the camera system,” McCausland said.
Bethany police chief Jesse Scribner noted that all three buildings were built at a time when security was not an issue.
“There is great concern. These buildings have original doors and windows,” he said. “As time goes by we can make it more and more secure, but how far do you want us to go?”
Emergency response time was another issue raised by citizens. With a limited number of police officers, sheriffs deputies, and state troopers available between Moultrie and Shelby counties, response times can extend from minutes to hours.
“For us to know something happened, someone is going to get hurt first,” Scribner said.
“We want to slow them (perpetrator) down and allow time to get emergency personnel there,” said Nichols.
Nichols spoke about layers of security beginning with locked exterior doors and locked classroom doors. One citizen asked about the possibility of arming teachers.
“I don’t have a problem with a teacher having a firearm,” Nichols responded. “It boils down to what parents want, what the teacher is willing to do, and what the school is willing to do.”
“Our staff is going to do everything they can to keep their students safe,” Hackney added.
“But I would not want a teacher to leave her students to talk down someone with a gun,” Nichols added.
Findlay assistant fire chief Ed Voltenburg noted that too much security can also cause a problem for emergency personnel to get into the building.
When asked what the State can do to help, Sen. Rose said that there is State support money to help schools.
“Schools that have been built since Columbine (1999) were designed with security. We’re dealing with older buildings here,” Rose said.
Rose said he feels the biggest nemisis facing Illinois schools is child abduction.
“You have an angry divorced parent who is looking to take their children away from the custodial parent,” Rose said.
He complimented the administration and the public for the discussion.
“I’ve learned quite a bit here tonight from your questions,” Rose said.
Both Rose and Rep. Brown said they supported concealed carry and open carry - an issue currently facing the General Assembly, but also said it would be up to the school administration if they want armed personnel.
In closing, Hackney told the audience that the administration and law enforcement authorities would take their concerns and use them for a planning.
“I’m pleased with the turnout, happy with the responses, and appreciative of the questions,” said Chief Nichols following the forum. “There’s a concern and we taking positive first steps. If something happens, we’re prepared to handle it.”