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updated: 7/27/2012 10:20 AM

Editorial: Planning, training to keep our kids safe

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

The scene was all too real.

Yellow police tape marked off the Gifford Street High School parking lot while Elgin's SWAT team armed with rifles waited for their signal to enter the school. Police and school district administrators huddled around a white board discussing tactics and listening as radios squawked, detailing what was unfolding inside.

But it was just a drill. A test for police, the fire department, the Elgin Area School District U-46 administration to see how they'd react if someone with a gun walked into a school.

The scenario was played out on July 17, 3 days before a gunman opened fire in a Colorado movie theater, killing 12 and injuring scores.

It may seem like a chilling coincidence, but this sort of training is ongoing.

U-46, the state's second largest school district, has conducted annual training sessions with police since 2007, each time in a different school.

John Heiderscheidt, U-46's coordinator of school safety and security, said the training went well. But training isn't done for mutual back patting. It's to firm up how prepared the various agencies are for a planned response to an unplanned horror. Heiderscheidt said stairwells and doorway numbers must be better coordinated. Communication, too, must improve.

U-46 officials know all too well that everyone must fulfill his role in such a situation. Elgin High School student Angel Facio attacked one of his teachers with a knife in 2008. His crime led to legislation that would allow police to share information with certain school officials if they believe a student has been violent outside of school and could be an immediate threat to others. The Senate approved the bill in May, and it sits on Gov. Quinn's desk.

Coordination and planning is an integral part of ensuring the safety of our children, and those towns and school districts that don't already have a plan or train for such circumstances could learn something from this example.

But it's also important to have a plan in place to deal with the aftermath of a tragedy.

Earlier this week, Carpentersville-based Community Unit District 300 updated its crisis handbook to prepare for how to treat the emotional needs of students, teachers and the broader school community in the event of a death of a student or teacher. This was in the works long before last week's tragedy in Colorado.

"There is training on how to respond to an event, but the recovery was neglected," district safety officer Gary Chester said. "The recovery phase is just as important as the preparation piece ... The psyche of the school and community is impacted so much, we have to find a way to bring normalcy back to the school."

There is now a checklist to guide decisions and activities for everyone, from the superintendent to the classroom teacher.

It's always important to have a plan in place, because, as we see every day, bad things can happen to good people anywhere.

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