River Forest District 90 and Oak Park District 97 schools will be holding active-shooter drills within the next two months, responding to a new law that requires these drills.
Illinois state law now requires that, within the first 90 days of each school year, schools must conduct at least one law enforcement drill addressing active threat or an active shooter in the school building. These drills must be held on days when the students are in attendance, rather than allowing teachers and staff to practice on days when the kids are not present. Additionally, a law enforcement agency must observe the administration of the drill.
D90’s Roosevelt Middle School Vice Principal Tina Steketee explained that River Forest public schools have a district-wide Safety Committee, which was responsible for working with the district’s resource officer, Ben Ransom, from the River Forest Police Department. The committee has administrators from all three schools, a police officer, a firefighter, and D90 Superintendent Ed Condon.
Steketee said the first active shooter drill, which will be held this year, will be scenario-based with the fictional situation provided by the police department. Teachers and staff will not know ahead of time what the scenario will be and will have an opportunity to see how they respond. They have had training; within the first two days of each school year, safety and emergency procedures are reviewed and all teachers walk through the procedures that must be followed in different situations. But the specifics of the scenario won’t be known in advance.
Additionally, the details of the scenario won’t be given to the children, who will only be aware that they are practicing a “hard lockdown.”
“We won’t use the phrase ‘active shooter’ around the children, and we won’t give them the specifics of the scenario,” said Steketee. “Kids should feel safe at school.”
The goal, she said, is to provide more adult recognition and awareness.
“We wanted the most kind and gentle version we could for this first time,” she said.
All schools in D90 will be holding active-shooter drills within the first 90 days of the school year.
In Oak Park, schools are similarly preparing to meet the new requirements, although their implementation does not involve scenario-based training. Amanda Siegfried, Oak Park District 97’s communications director said that for them, “it boils down to a hard lock-down drill.”
“We follow the state guidelines that everyone else follows,” said Siegfried. “We don’t have any simulation or anything like that, like someone in the building pretending to be a shooter. We have a hard lock-down drill that we do with the Oak Park police, and they are present at the time.”
Siegfried added that the conversations teachers and staff have with the students vary from elementary to middle school.
“They’re at different levels in terms of their development so there are certain things to discuss with kindergartners versus middle-schoolers. Principals will let parents know ahead of time they’re doing it, they inform them we’re doing this to comply with state mandates, and they generally have conversations with students before and after they implement the drill,” said Siegfried.