'We have to start an open dialogue': School, law leaders discuss District 203 and 204 security
If you see something, say something.
That was the main message relayed during a virtual panel discussion on school safety hosted by state Rep. Janet Yang Rohr in the wake of recent threats against Naperville's high schools. The panel was organized by Yang Rohr to give the community an idea of how school threats are handled.
Included in Monday's discussion were Naperville Police Chief Jason Arres and Cmdr. Tim Ogan, Naperville Unit District 203 Superintendent Dan Bridges, Indian Prairie Unit District 204 Superintendent Dr. Adrian Talley, DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin and Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow.
While they couldn't provide every detail about investigations and the reaction to school threats because of security reasons, the group outlined the process after the District 203 and 204 high schools were targeted by four threats from Sept. 22 to Oct. 19. Suspects in two of the threats have been charged with crimes.
"We have to start an open dialogue," Arres said. "Not all of these threats originate locally. We had the one recently traced to a juvenile in New York. However, some threats do start with our own students. So we encourage you as parents to have open and honest conversations with your children about the seriousness of making threats against an individual or a school community.
"Our children need to understand there is no such thing as joking about bringing a weapon to school, planting a bomb, initiating violence against another or causing any type of chaos within the learning environment," he said.
Berlin, who said his office charged suspects in 30 school threats in 2019, talked about the severity of punishments for the crimes. He also said many of the suspects are caught because other students come forward with information either to their parents or to school and law enforcement officials.
Bridges and Talley stressed the safety training that's part of district policy and noted the safety assessment teams and resource officers responsible for school security. Between response plans, tip lines and the securing of facilities, they said many strategies are used to keep schools safe.
Bridges said he understands the frustration among parents who often first receive news about threats from their children instead of the school district. But maintaining a proper line of communication, he said, is critical.
"Our priority is the safety of your children and the safety of our staff," he said. "The communication must be internal, and it must be timely as we evaluate and try to respond to whatever that threat may be. Once we have information that we know is accurate and true, we will communicate as timely and quickly as possible."