Oak Park and River Forest High School is seen on Monday, Sept. 27, 2021, on Lake Street in Oak Park, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

In the wake of two recent fights that injured security guards the Oak Park and River Forest High School administration is asking its school board for permission to hire 14 additional security guards, known officially as Campus Safety and Support personnel, at an estimated annual cost of $677,000 based on an average salary of $48,400 per security guard. The school currently employs 27 security guards.

If the additional security guards are hired this month, it would cost about $140,000 more for the remainder of the school year. But at the Feb. 23 school board meeting board members told OPRF principal Lynda Parker to come back with more evidence to support her proposal.

Parker told the school board that most of the additional security guards would be stationed by exterior doors to prevent students from exiting the school during the school day which happens several times a day setting off alarms. Parker also said more security coverage in general is needed at OPRF.

Last fall some security guards, including union leaders, appeared before the school board and said security guards were overworked, students were becoming harder to deal with and saying that morale was low among the security team.

“Our Safety and Support team has consistently reported that incidents of disrespect are increasing,” wrote Parker and Director of Campus Safety Cherylynn Jones-McLeod in a memo to the school board. “A significant reason for this disrespect is linked to our inability to consistently enforce expectations due to having insufficient coverage in the building. This results in doors being unsupervised, and alarms being set off by unauthorized exits, a several-times-a-day occurrence.”

Parker said at three particular doors there are an average of 28 unauthorized exits by students per day.  

The memo states fights at OPRF are not increasing. There were 33 fights at OPRF in the first semester, the same number as in the first semester of the 2021-22 school year and fewer than the 47 fights reported in the first semester of the 2019-20 school year. 

But the memo states that currently security guards cannot cover all 17 first floor exit doors leaving some doors unmonitored. Other problems include the existence of the few “hot spots” where students can congregate outside the view of security posts, multiple students using single occupancy restrooms at same time, insufficient staff to provide complete coverage in hallways during passing periods, and a greater need for supervision of the south cafeteria doors during lunch periods.  

Lunches, where students congregate, have been a time of problems. Board member Gina Harris who leads the Climate, Culture and Behavior Committee said educators on the committee have expressed concerns about safety at the school.

If 14 new security guards are hired nine would be assigned to cover doors and four would be assigned to cover so called hot spots where students tend to congregate. The assignment for the other new hire is not specified.

“Hiring these 14 positions will allow us to redistribute the remaining safety and security personnel, increasing coverage in the cafeteria  and other hot spots throughout the building,” the memo states.

Currently OPRF has 27.2 full time equivalent security employees which is already significantly more than the 17 supervisory aides recommended for a school the size of OPRF by the Illinois evidence based funding model which recommends one supervisory aide for every 200 students. But Parker said that OPRF is different than the average school in that it has 17 exterior doors. She also noted that OPRF employs security people round the clock, eight of whom work on the evening shift and two work overnight.

School board members seemed wary of having so many more security guards than the state model recommends for a school the size of OPRF and wanted data to support the request.

“An ask of 14 additional bodies is not a little ask,” said school board president Tom Cofsky noting that hiring 14 additional security guards would put OPRF at triple the number recommended by the evidence based funding model.

Board member Ralph Martire also noted that the spending on security was much more than the evidence based funding model would indicate and he wanted the administration to look for places to cut expenses so that the cost of additional security guards would be balanced out by cuts elsewhere.  

Board member Sara Spivy wondered if a security guard was really needed at every door. She suggested that perhaps cameras could be installed to take photos of everyone leaving the school during the school day to serve as a deterrent.

Kebreab Henry, a board member, wanted more data about the need for additional workers just to monitor doors. Henry wanted to know how additional security workers would solve the problems the memo identified and wanted a balanced approach that also focused on changing student behavior.

Changing student behavior was also a focus for Harris.

“Are these people that are going to help them learn new behaviors or are these just going to be reinforcements,” Harris said. “I’m mindful of how that might feel for the students of having additional people just to observe them.”

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