As uneasy parents across the country sent their kids back to school Monday, those in Downers Grove did so with extra security measures in place.
"As members of a tight-knit and supportive community, it has been difficult for all of us to come to terms with the situation and the grief that the families and community in Newtown, Connecticut, are experiencing," Downers Grove Grade School District 58 Superintendent Kari Cremascoli said in an email to parents.
Twenty children and six adults were killed Friday morning in a shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown—making it the second-deadliest school shooting in United States history.
Following the tragedy, District 58 officials were contacted by a number of parents concerned about school safety procedures. As a result, Cremascoli issued statements Friday, Sunday and Monday outlining the district's safety procedures.
"We understand that sending your students to school (Monday) was no doubt an emotional event for you and we appreciate the trust and confidence you have placed within us to help your child to feel safe and supported once at school," Cremascoli said.
As of Monday morning, the front doors to all school facilities in District 58 will remain locked during student attendance hours, Cremascoli said. All other doors have always been locked.
The district has also installed doorbell systems at the front entrance of each school that ring the office to alert staff of a visitor, and will be considering more sophisticated buzzer systems moving forward.
"While we know that there is no plan that can totally prevent a random act of senseless violence like that which occurred in Connecticut on Friday, we believe this added security will offer an additional sense of safety and security for our students, staff and parents," Cremascoli said in the email.
District 58 currently has school safety plans in place that are reviewed and revised annually by its Emergency Management Plan Committee and local law enforcement officials, Cremascoli said.
"These plans are regularly practiced by faculty and staff, and will continue to be a critical piece of our district's safety and security measures," she said.
Cremascoli said District 58 plans to host a community forum with the Downers Grove Police Department and Downers Grove Fire Department in early January to review and discuss emergency plans with interested parents and citizens.
While safety remains a top priority for District 58, staff members are also committed to providing a "nurturing, familiar and safe" school environment for students—particularly those who are aware of the shootings, officials said.
"Teachers are monitoring their students throughout the day watching for any indicators of stress or fear, and taking direction from their students as to how—or whether—this issue is addressed in their classroom," Cremascoli said.
For students who seem especially upset, schools will provide individualized support through a social worker, psychologist or counselor.
A statement issued to parents in Community High School District 99 on Friday reminded parents and students of the district's safety procedures.
"In the case of an emergency, we will post information to our websites as well as use our phone and email notification system to share critical information," said District 99 Superintendent Mark McDonald. "We will also issue text messages."
To sign up for text notifications, community members should send a text message from their mobile device to 68453 with the word "subscribe." Parents should also ensure that their contact information is up-to-date and accurate in the District 99 Home Access Center.
District 99 Communications Director Jill Browning said Monday that all external doors are locked except for the main entrances including the east and west side entrances at North High and the south side entrance at South High.
A staff member is posted at each of the main entrances, where visitors are required to sign in, state the reason of their visit and where they are going inside the building, Browning said.
In addition to school resource officers on site at both buildings, a Downers Grove police officer and a Woodridge police officer are located at South High and a Downers Grove officer is located at North High.
"Keeping our students safe is a top priority to everyone at District 99," Browning said.
Coincidentally, several Downers Grove school administrators attended a special workshop hosted by the Village of Downers Grove on Monday about emergency response plans—specifically related to an active shooter situation.
Downers Grove Police Sgt. Harry Andler said the event was planned weeks ago to offer lessons learned from the Feb. 14, 2008 shooting at Northern Illinois University.
The training was attended by area law enforcement agencies, Downers Grove police and fire personnel, and local school districts, Andler said.
"It was timely, unfortunately, because of what occurred on Friday," Andler said. "We planned it weeks ago in hopes of sharing those lessons from NIU."
Several District 99 staff members attended the workshop, Browning said.
"We are always learning, and seeking to improve our safety measures, and this is a continuous process," she said.
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