In addition to new students, like this freshman walking through a line of welcoming mentors, returning Oak Park and River Forest High School students found themselves walking through a set of new security doors. (DAVID PIERINI/Staff Photographer)

Randy Braverman, OPRF’s new security director, wasn’t on the job long before facing his first security incident.

He saw a man, who didn’t appear to be a parent or student, wandering in the building. Turns out it was a homeless person asking for money. Thankfully, that’s all the person wanted, Braverman says.

Controlling access to Oak Park and River Forest High School, 201 N. Scoville Ave., is part of Braverman’s job. And it’s taken on a greater sense of urgency in recent years, especially with the recent school shootings in Newtown Conn. last December.

Hired in April, Braverman’s background in law enforcement is extensive.

Prior to OPRF, Braverman, a former police officer, worked for the Illinois Terrorism Task Force, training local police and school officials, including OPRF’s staff. He’s also a former security director for Cicero’s public schools. His OPRF responsibilities include training staff and teachers on proper emergency procedures.

“Access control is the big thing in schools,” Braverman said. “You’ve seen it all over the world. Schools have to control access because we need to know who’s in our building, and making sure that people who are in our building are supposed to be here. And if we have an emergency, we have to know who’s in our building because we have to account for it.”

Braverman said access control is also about keeping staff and students, and visitors, safe.

The most recent and noticeable change to OPRF are the new glass doors in the Welcome Center just inside the Scoville Avenue main entrance. Visitors are now buzzed in through the doors to access the rest of the building after they have registered with staff. Teachers and other staff scan their IDs to enter. Installed three week’s ago, the glass doors and walls enclose the Welcome Center.

“Everybody goes through one door so we have everyone checking in and we know who’s supposed to be here, because anyone can walk in off the street obviously,” Braverman said.

The school has two other entrances just for students — at the South Mall on East Avenue and on Erie Street.

IDs worn by students and staff are mandatory. Students without one have to get a temporary ID. Visitors must turn over a driver’s license or state ID at the Welcome Center before receiving a temporary ID.

The school upgraded its security camera system two years, including adding more cameras in the building. OPRF’s closed campus policy is entering its third year, with juniors and seniors allowed off campus for lunch but under strict conditions, including parental approval.

Some parents and students have complained about these recent changes.

Principal Nathaniel Rouse insists that the school is still welcoming to visitors and parents, but that safety is the first priority. Installing the new door system, he adds, was a safety measure.

“I have a huge task in making sure that the comings and goings of individuals here are safe,” Rouse said. “We always have to air on the side of caution, so balancing the need to be welcoming to visitors — and our students and staff — with the need to make sure that we are secure is difficult at times, but we’re getting better at that.

“The doors were a direct result of some of the concerns and the openness that we’ve had that compromises safety,” Rouse said. “So, going to a system that allows us to monitor that better is not us saying that we don’t want people here, it’s about controlling who’s here, when and how — and most importantly, that our students and staff are safe.

Rouse said the Connecticut school shooting has had an influence.

“Sandy Hook, we learned a lot from that. We had 17 doors that were open at any time where people can come and go. We have 3,200 students that come in this building every day. We have over 300 faculty and staff. We’re a big school. Having 17 doors compromises your ability to determine who’s coming and going.”

And complaints about the lack of openness, Rouse said, stem from people’s memory of how schools used to be.

“Most folks have been through high school, and when you have, you’re going to have a lens of what high school looks like. And if you went to school here, it looks very different than it did 20 years ago, or 10 or five years ago,” Rouse said. “So we are doing things that are best-practice as it relates to safety that’s very different than when we were in high school.”

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

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