ELMHURST – Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205 has been taking steps to ensure students' safety, but there is a heightened awareness in the community of school safety following the shooting Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
"Everyone is on a heightened sense of concern for the safety of the students, and safety of the students for the district is our No. 1 priority," Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations Chris Whelton said in a phone interview Feb. 20.
Whelton said the district improves safety procedures every year and every time a tragedy in a school district occurs, and the district's safety committee meets several times a year. He said the district communicates with the Elmhurst Police Department about timing of school drills so that staff members are prepared for them.
"We definitely need to be prepared, as best prepared as we can be, for different scenarios at different times of the day. ... It's difficult to train for every possible scenario that could happen, but we need to do our best that we can to prepare our staff for different situations," Whelton said.
He said he thinks the district will look into training for different types of situations, in terms of location and timing, to prepare staff and students.
Parents have reached out to the district to find out more about the safety of the district's schools, and Whelton plans to discuss those questions parents had with the Elmhurst Police Department.
"We have improved our plans and we've made changes to our plans, and we will continuously re-evaluate and try to improve them," he said.
In a Feb. 15 memo on school safety, Superintendent David Moyer wrote the district urges students to immediately report safety concerns to a trusted adult or to call 911 to alert the police, and if students see or hear something, they should say something.
District schools annually conduct active shooter lockdown drills in collaboration with and under the supervision of local law enforcement officers, including school resource officers who work throughout the district daily. The district conducts training annually involving the leadership team and local first responders, and it has installed panic buttons in the main offices of all schools.
Police also have an increased presence during morning drop-off and afternoon pickup, according to the memo.
The superintendent also suggested in the memo that if parents are unsure how to talk to their children about tragedies, they can consult a child health expert or work with school social workers.
York Community High School students also have taken action.
Drew McGuire, assistant principal and activities director at York, said the Empower Club, which often advocates for women's rights issues, met after school Feb. 20 about the aftermath of the Florida tragedy.
He said the roughly 10 students who attended the meeting talked about their feelings coming back to school after the violence in Florida and about possibly participating in the March 14 walkouts, which are being planned across the country.
McGuire said building administrators are preparing for that possibility in coming up with guidelines and logistics to ensure they are both supporting and respecting students' rights to demonstrate and also ensuring the continued teaching of students who do not choose to participate in order to ensure safety and well-being for all students that day.
Empower Club sponsorLindsey DiTomasso said in an email Feb. 22 the group envisions a letter-writing campaign during lunch periods in which students can write to officials at all levels of government, particularly those receiving money from the National Rifle Association, with a goal of decreasing gun violence in schools.
The York Student Council also is making a banner in a sign of support for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which has planned to display banners groups around the country are sending, McGuire said.
Parents with specific questions about the safety plan at their children's school can contact the school office or visit the "Safety in Our Schools" webpage at elmhurst205.org/safety.
How to help
To donate to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School fundraisers, visit shawurl.com/38du.