As soon as Chris Linsing heard about the fatal mass shooting at a school in Ovaldi, Texas, his thoughts headed straight to his responsibilities as superintendent of East Coloma Nelson Elementary School in Rock Falls.
“You start thinking right away: Do we have all our ducks in a row? Can we do better? Are we the safest?” he said.
One fact hit the house: Uvalde’s victims — 19 students aged 8 to 10 and two teachers — mirror K–8 school students at ECN.
Lensing encouraged discussions about school safety that day.
“We alerted employees to take advantage of that time to review our safety plan,” said Linsing. “If students have concerns, have a conversation at this point.”
Planning and training for school intrusion incidents is ongoing for local schools. The 47 Regional Bureau of Education for Lee, Ogle, and Whiteside counties requires contingency plans and training, such as drills for active fire situations.
Linsing said he and supervisors at Rock Falls High School, Montmorency, and District 13 recently reviewed their school safety plans with local law enforcement.
ECN also brought in Chris Lopez, a consultant specializing in ALICE training, who establishes public safety protocols with schools and workplaces following procedures for alerting, closing, reporting, resisting and emergency evacuation.
ALICE training was at the center of a preparedness plan that was in effect on May 16, 2018, when School Resources Officer Mark Dallas intercepted a student with a firearm outside the Dixon High School gymnasium during a graduation rehearsal.
In a Gazette and Telegraph story from July 2, 2021, the Dixon Police Sergeant retired. Mike Wolfley, a leading figure on the law enforcement side of workplace preparedness, said community vigilance is essential.
“Officers, advisers, staff – try to look for red flags,” Wolfley said at the time. But sometimes these red flags are there, sometimes they aren’t. In the workplace, you work with [human resources] and supervisors. You learn the procedures. Maybe there’s a mental health issue, maybe something else could be a starting moment. You just don’t know.
ECN was created as a single entry campus. Visitors come from one door and are identified by a video camera. The entrance is monitored and visitors are not allowed to enter until they have passed a visual inspection. Facilities are provided for visitors.
Lensing said further ECN upgrades were planned ahead of the Uvalde shooting – recommendations that came from a safety team of teachers and administrators. During the summer, more security cameras will be placed around the building. The master card access system will also be installed.
Certified personnel will be able to use key cards to enter, but only for the times they are allowed to be present.
For Sterling Public Schools Director Tad Everett, student safety is a constant concern.
“People called me, many parents got in touch [and ask], “Is this a reminder?” He said. “And the honest answer is no, it’s not a reminder because that’s on our minds. And it’s the most important thing we do every day, which is work hard to keep students and staff safe.”
Improvements to building security at Stirling Public Schools are also planned. Challand Middle School already has a safety vestibule. But the bond issue was passed at the May meeting to save money to improve entry security at several facilities.
The first school to receive an upgrade would be Washington School, originally built in the 1950s, and then Lincoln School. Improvements at the Franklin and Jefferson Schools would come later.
Everett said the goal of the renovation was to create clean lines of sight from the office to the entrance, but cameras and door locks that are controlled from the office are also part of it. Everett said that when the district began making renovation plans ahead of the pandemic, law enforcement input was necessary.
The relationship with first responders includes providing immediate access to the building, security infrastructure, and banking services in close proximity to the CGH Medical Center and the School Resource Officer.
“All of these things are done with this intention in mind—that [incidents] It doesn’t last long. Everett said… It’s short, very fast, and a quick response by law enforcement is very important.
Everett said school safety is about more than working with law enforcement — SPS also uses ALICE protocols — and hardening doorways.
There is an opportunity to address core issues that can prevent violence by young perpetrators. It is also important to provide emotional support to students who display anger or struggle socially, in light of anecdotal evidence that many school shooters display similar traits.
“We have increased our social services for our students,” Everett said. “There is a guidance counselor now for every one of our buildings. We have social workers in each of our buildings who do their job with students who are struggling – socially and emotionally – and we hope you never get that far, but to the point where we provide early services. We work with outside agencies to provide services Additional for students who are experiencing difficulties.
Students whose family structure is deteriorating or those identified as requiring coping mechanisms are given additional attention. The department is active in providing “social and emotional assistance to give them avenues with which to cope and cope with life”.
At Dixon Public Schools, Superintendent Margot Empien presented her annual presentation of the district’s crisis plan to the school board at their November 17 meeting. The package was expanded after the department met for its annual review with law enforcement and fire departments, she added.
“We’ve learned a lot over the years,” Empien said, noting that the reunion protocol — how students are reunited with parents after an accident — needs updating. She said at the time that it was a “living document,” noting that a bus accident off campus tested some protocols and that “some things had to be adjusted afterwards.”
The Crisis Plan filled a thick three-ring wrapper.
“This fit in a beautiful two-pack,” she said while showing her on the board for examination.
The first floor of Madison Elementary School will be remodeled, and security measures will be added to the doors of the Division Street vestibule as part of a renovation project planned for this summer.
Kevin Schultz, Director of Building and Lands, provided an overview of the project to the Dixon Public Schools Board at its regular meeting on January 19. The renovated entrance will include a call box for visitors to use, a security camera and an entry bell that will be controlled by office staff.
Statewide, the Illinois Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union with 135,000 members, issued a call for political action after the Uvalde shootings and gun violence in Buffalo, New York.
“It’s time to stop watching these tragedies and start doing something,” said a statement issued jointly by three IEA officers, President Cathy Griffin, Vice President Al Lorenz, and Treasury Secretary Tom Tully. “We are asking our leaders to come together. This is not a partisan issue. This is not a gun rights issue.
“This is an issue about being able to go to school and being safe, enabling families of color to go to the grocery store in the middle of the day and not be targeted with violence, and helping all of America not live in fear.”
All of these precautions cannot change an undeniable fact: the persistence of armed violence in schools and other public places.
For Lensing, it’s a troubling prospect.
“Are we doing everything to keep our children safe?” He said.