So we asked police and school administrators: What can parents do to update their family safety plans for the modern era?
Among the tips for parents from Cmdr. Chuck Pierce of the St. Charles (Illinois) Police Department: Address the topic of school shootings directly.
“It’s a hard conversation to have, but it’s one that’s realistic,” he said. “We have to sit down and tell (our children) that there’s the possibility that there are bad people out there that want to do harm to people at school.”
Encourage your child to take school safety drills seriously, he said. Your child should be able to explain what happened in the drill at school. If not, you may want to reach out to the school district, find out what the class learned, and review the information with your child.
Parents preparing for a school emergency don’t have to set up a post-crisis meeting place, as safety experts suggest in the case of natural disasters, because many schools set up off-campus reunification sites where parents can pick up their children, according to Deputy Kip Heinle of the Madison County Sheriff’s Department in Edwardsville. Heinle, a member of the school safety working group of the Illinois Terrorism Task Force, recommends calling your child’s school district and asking if there’s a reunification plan in place.
Generally, he said, the reunification place will be off school grounds, and there may be more than one option. Off-campus reunification prevents hundreds — or even thousands — of parents from descending on a single school, clogging traffic and preventing ambulances or firetrucks from getting to the scene.
Parents will need identification — a driver’s license is fine — if they have to pick up their children at a reunification site, he said.
Finding out that there’s a crisis underway should be fairly easy, Heinle said: “With Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and text messages, parents are going to know within minutes that there’s something going down at school.”
In a soft lockdown, classes continue as usual, but added safety measures are taken. The soft lockdown at Whitney Young was touched off by two threats written in bathrooms, WGN reported, including one that said, “You will all pay 12/5.” Assistant principal Melvin Soto said additional security measures are in place and school life is returning to normal.
Recently, three buildings in Wheaton-Warrenville District 200 were briefly placed on various levels of lockdown after an individual tried to enter the district’s Jefferson Early Childhood Center, according to district communications director Erica Loiacono. Nearby Emerson Elementary was placed on lockdown then soft lockdown, and Monroe Middle School was placed on soft lockdown, Loiacono said.
The lockdowns lasted about 15 minutes, Loiacono said.
Wheaton police Deputy Chief P.J. Youker said police determined there wasn’t any apparent danger to the community.
At St. Charles Community Unit School District No. 303, Assistant Superintendent Seth Chapman, who did his doctoral thesis on school shootings, recommended that parents of middle school and high school students explain the difference between being a tattletale and telling the truth about a potentially dangerous situation.
“We hear all the time, ‘If you see something, say something,’ ” said Chapman. “The best resource we have to find out something before it happens is our students. They know what’s going on.”