OPRF history teacher Toni Biasiello making her public comment at the March 9 school board meeting. | Screenshot

Six new security guards will soon be on the job at Oak Park and River Forest High School. The OPRF school board voted 5-0 on March 9 to approve the new positions. The six new Campus Safety and Support team members is down from the 14 that the administration asked for last month. The school board balked at that number and the administration reduced its request to six new positions.

The vote came before a board room packed with teachers and other staff, many wearing red T-shirts, who supported hiring more security guards. Also present was a reporter and camera crew from local television station CBS2 Chicago which aired a report about the meeting. Three teachers addressed the school board during the public comment portion of the meeting asking that the request for more security guards be approved.

“I’ve worked here for 19 years and this year it feels like there are unprecedented safety concerns that compromise the learning environment,” said OPRF history teacher Toni Biasiello.

Biasiello said teachers and security guards have been injured this year just doing their jobs. 

“For a lot of us who work here it feels like a matter of not if, but when something worse happens,” Biasiello said.

Third year history teacher Wilson Caraballo expressed similar concerns.

“I worry and I get nervous when I come into the building thinking what’s going to happen today,” Caraballo told the school board. “Am I going to have to break up a fight? Am I going to have to console some kids? Am I going to have to wrangle some kids in who are all jazzed up, because there’s been a fight, and they want to show the video to everyone that they can?”

In a memo to the school board supporting the recommendation to hire six new security officers the OPRF administration said that total student infractions have increased by 19 percent compared to one year ago.  Hallway infractions are up 50 percent (56 as of March 2 for the current school compared to 38 last year).

“Safety and Support personnel have confronted many negative interactions with students who are having difficulty regulating their emotions which manifest in more aggressive behaviors in the common spaces throughout the school including, but not limited to, lack of boundaries, ignoring adult redirection, increased substance use/abuse among students of varying racial groups, risk taking behaviors, etc.,” the memo states.

Unauthorized departures from the school are a particular problem. According to the memo certain doors averaged from one to three unauthorized exits per period on two days in February. Each unauthorized exit sets off an alarm which can disrupt the school day.

One of the new security guards will be assigned to monitor security cameras, another will be assigned to the school’s Welcome Center and four will be assigned, one per floor, to the area by the freight elevator and bathrooms. School officials have concerns about vaping and other “unfavorable behaviors” going on near the bathrooms. 

In addition two security guards now assigned to the evening shift will be switched to the day shift to provide more coverage during the school day.

The annual cost of having the six additional security guards is expected to be approximately $288,000 with each position costing $48,000 in pay and benefits. The additional cost this school year could be $60,000 depending on when the new hires are made. Adding six more security guards will bring the total number of security guards at OPRF to 33.2 full time equivalent positions. The school is in the process of posting the positions.

Two board members, Ralph Martire and board president Tom Cofsky, voted to authorize the new positions but said they wanted the administration to make other cost cuts next year to make the hires cost neutral or close to it.

“I would like to see some semblance of financial balance here,” Martire said.

School board members also said they did not expect the new hires to solve all the safety and security problems at OPRF.

“I don’t think the addition of six more bodies will eliminate all the concerns that I saw flagged,” Martire said. 

Other board members agreed.

“I’ll support it but we are far from addressing this issue,” said board member Kebreab Henry.

Henry said the school can only do so much and parents have to get more involved with their kids noting that parents spend more time with their children than do school staff.

“It’s not going to be solved solely here,” Henry said. “Something is happening before the kids get into the building,”

Board member Fred Arkin was concerned and wanted a deep dive into the root causes of the bad behavior and what can be done to prevent it and help students.

“Are we just putting a band-aid on something and not getting to the root cause and not getting to what is the true problem,” Arkin asked. “When I hear our faculty members come up here and say that they don’t feel safe in the building, that concerns me and as far as I can tell from this report the reason for that anxiety is student behavior.”

Arkin noted that OPRF has changed its approach in dealing with student misbehavior.

“We know that we’ve moved very quickly, in terms of, basically from punishment to restorative practices, etcetera, but behavior still requires consequences,” Arkin said.

Principal Lynda Parker said she supports a deeper dive into the issues underlying the bad behavior but warned board members that they must be prepared for some uncomfortable findings.

“I understand completely about the root cause analysis and then the deep dive and just ask that we can all be courageous as we dive in because we’re going to find things and I just want to make sure we’re in support of finding them and addressing them,” Parker said. 

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