Following the Newtown, Connecticut school shootings, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn announced Dec. 18 that several state agencies will review existing programs for student protection.
“We want the parents of Illinois to know their children are as safe as possible when they are at school,” Quinn said. “Illinois has increased emergency preparedness and collaboration between local police and schools in recent years, but we must continue to take every step possible to make our schools even safer. This coordinated effort will assist local police and school officials to make sure our students are protected.”
The Illinois State Board of Education, the Illinois State Police, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and other state agencies will work with local school districts and local law enforcement to aid in emergency response planning to ensure they can provide support to local jurisdictions in a timely and efficient manner.
A letter from Jadine Chou, Chief Safety and Security Officer of Chicago Public Schools, went out to school principals immediately after the shootings reminding them to review and refresh their already-in-place emergency plans, to conduct their required emergency drills and to reinforce their security protocols, especially in the areas of access control and visitor management. Grief counselors were also on hand for any school that needed it.
“It is with immense sadness that I extend condolences to the families and loved ones of those affected by this incomprehensible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary,” said Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Chicago Public Schools, chief executive officer in a released statement. “The safety and protection of our students is of the utmost importance to our school principals, teachers, staff and administrators and is a responsibility the district takes seriously. CPS stands with our school family in Newtown, Connecticut, and our thoughts and prayers are with them during this time.”
In the coming weeks, Governor Quinn will convene experts from the state and local public safety, education, public health and mental health agencies to discuss violence prevention and response strategies.
Additionally, the School and Campus Security Training Program, a cooperative effort of the Illinois State Board of Education, Illinois Terrorism Task Force and the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System, will soon roll out a School Safety Drill Video and Computer-Based Training tutorial, which reflect best practices based on lessons learned from real life emergency events.
The videos will be free and available for distribution for public and private schools by early January 2013. The videos detail specific actions for administrators, teachers and support staff for each drill, based on post-incident reports and de-briefings from real school events.
Since 2009, schools in Illinois have been required to perform an emergency drill at least once per year. In addition, schools must have emergency and crisis plans in place and review them annually.
Since 2005, the School and Campus Security Training Program provided more than 250 K-12 school safety planning courses attended by more than 8,600 participants representing 817 public school districts and 545 non-public schools.
In 2012 the program delivered 55 preparedness training courses for both K-12 and higher education institutions that were attended by 1,486 participants, to update emergency operations plans and increase their capacity to respond to and recover from all hazards, including active shooters. Currently, there are 11 courses scheduled from January through March of 2013.
“School-based emergency management teams, with plenty of back-up members, have become a standard part of education,” said State Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch. “Efforts to keep our students safe require districts to build and maintain close relationships with their community responders as they run the law enforcement drills required under the School Safety Drill Act.”
While significant focus is on planning and preparation to respond to emergency situations, state laws and services also address threats to students’ social and emotional health with requirements to address bullying.
In 2004, Illinois became the first state in the nation to require all school districts to teach social and emotional skills as part of their curriculum and daily school life, from lunch room interactions to after school activities. As part of these classes, students are required to meet certain benchmarks – such as recognizing and managing feelings, building empathy and making responsible decisions.
By Deborah Bayliss