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Leaders Address Public Safety in Illinois Schools
School safety has been a national and local conversation since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that left 26 people dead, including 20 students. On Tuesday, a school safety meeting brought together statewide law enforcement, mental health experts, and education leaders to address the short- and long-term efforts to safeguard our schools.
"Illinois schools are safe, but we can always be safer," Jonathon Monken, the director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, said. "That's the key."
Monken was one of several state leaders in public safety and education who met at a School Safety Summit in Springfield Tuesday. Topics included crisis prevention, school and community planning, and coordination and facility protection and security.
So what is one solution to making schools safer? Monken said information sharing among districts. For this summit, every issue on the table.
"If it's guards at schools, if it's those kinds of issues, if it's metal detectors or cameras at schools, or better stronger doors, or making sure doors are locked, all of those things can positively impact public safety," Monken said.
The Illinois Association of School Boards said the biggest way to improve safety is communication. But when it comes to the physical safety measures, that brings up another issue.
"School districts across the state have been cut over $800 million over the last three years, with a possible another $200 or $300 [million] cut this year," Ben Schwarm from the association said. "That makes it very difficult to add more programs and to add more spending."
In the Ball Chatham School District, they have a security officer who is in charge of the district. Linda Carter is a school board member for the district. She attended the Summit Tuesday. One topic she thinks is important?
"Make sure we know of students well," Carter said. "That we address the mental health issues, of kids in the school but also the community. Make sure we head off something before it happens."
The Illinois Association of School Boards says Illinois is "ahead of the curve" when it comes to school safety. Several years ago, a state law was implemented that required districts to come up with a safety plan. Districts also have to sit down with local emergency responders every year to make sure that plan is still the best course of action.