D181 puts safety lessons into practice

Shooting incidents, lingering COVID concerns keep officials on alert as students return

Student and staff safety is a top priority as the 2022-23 school year kicks off Monday, according to Community Consolidated School District 181 officials, both in terms of building security and personal health.

At Monday’s regular meeting at Hinsdale Middle School, District 181 board members were given an overview by Superintendent Hector Garcia on of steps taken to provide a safe learning environment. Those include safety vestibules and secure office areas as lines of defense against potential threats.

“We really have spent a lot of time protecting our students by virtue of ensuring that these two are in place, and that there are staff members constantly monitoring these areas,” Garcia said.

The report came against the backdrop of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in the spring and the Independence Day parade shooting in Highland Park last month, among other mass shooting events around the country.

While stating that detailed information on the district’s safety measures would not be disclosed for obvious reasons, he did note, in response to an inquiry from board member Grace Shin, that video surveillance was being bolstered.

“We’re going to have more cameras in our district, and we’re going to enhance their capacity,” Garcia commented. “You will see that in more and more of our buildings.

“A great deal of work will continue to take place around cameras,” he said.

Visitor ID management systems and exterior card readers are other methods the district uses to regulate admission to buildings.

“We want to make sure that students and staff members can easily identify people who should be here and who should not,” Garcia said.

Garcia also highlighted school staff ALICE training on active shooter response as part of the school year preparations.

“We’re going to be updating our reunification site location and procedures” in the event of an emergency, he added, and a special app will be used for internal communication when necessary.

The district has both a safety and crisis committee, and a districtwide threat assessment team, and they consult with the Hinsdale, Burr Ridge and Clarendon Hills police departments on safety matters.

“They’ve been terrific to work with. We’ll continue the communication and collaboration throughout the year,” Garcia said of the partnership. “We’ll continue to look for enhancement opportunities to our safety measures throughout the entire year.”

Shin suggested apprising school PTO groups about the expectations regarding keeping the building secure when hosting special activities both during and after school “so that it is uniform throughout the district.”

Garcia expressed support for the recommendation.

Officials also are remaining vigilant against the spread of COVID-19 within the schools. Garcia said the district conferred with state and local health departments in its foundational strategies, namely encouraging students and staff to stay home when sick and not come to school for at least five days after a positive test.

“Rapid testing is going to be available at our schools” to be sent home, he reported. “The surveillance testing that we had in place last year was very, very labor intensive.”

The school principal and teacher will work with the parent to provide optimal remote instruction for that student, Garcia said.

Students can come back on day 6 with the stipulation that symptoms have abated and recommendation that a mask be worn and a negative COVID test received.

Administrators reported no cases of positive COVID-19 tests among summer school students. Daily cases will be posted on the district website, and 10 cases or more in a cohort or classroom will trigger enhanced outbreak measures including enhanced cleaning and surveillance testing made available.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean