Suburban schools work to reassure students, parents in wake of Texas shooting
After the killing of 19 students and two teachers Tuesday at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, suburban school leaders moved quickly Wednesday to reassure students and parents and review safety policies.
District officials sent letters to community members stressing their focus on student safety and providing online links to information about how to talk to their children about the mass shooting.
Some asked for an increased police presence around their buildings, and social workers and psychologists were made available to students who sought assistance.
"As a mom and an educator, as someone who is responsible for other people's children, safety of children both physically and mentally is always on the forefront of my mind," said Rebecca Jenkins, superintendent of Libertyville Elementary School District 70.
Police increased patrols near the district's schools Wednesday and district officials plan to meet with the department over the summer to review safety protocols.
Arlington Heights Elementary School District 25 Superintendent Lori Bein said police officers were at all of the district's schools Wednesday morning, some in marked police cars outside and others inside the buildings or walking on school property.
"They will be back at all nine schools (Thursday) morning, and at various times throughout the final days of the school year," Bein wrote in a message to the school community.
In a letter to parents Tuesday night, Palatine Township Elementary District 15 Superintendent Laurie Heinz wrote that the district "out of an abundance of caution" had asked police to provide an additional presence at its schools for the rest of the school year.
"This event is unsettling, and I am reaching out now to assure you that the safety of our students and staff is our top priority," Heinz wrote. "I also want to reassure you that our schools have comprehensive safety plans in place that are reviewed annually, and revisited and rehearsed in partnership with our local first responders."
"While we will not set aside time in our classrooms for lengthy discussions, we will allow conversations to develop naturally," she added. "If students bring up the event, we will acknowledge the situation, validate their feelings, and move them back to their school work."
St. Charles Community Unit School District 303 and Barrington Community Unit School District 220 directed parents to online resources from sources like the National Association of School Psychologists to help them address their children's concerns.
The association's tips include emphasizing that schools are safe; letting children speak about their feelings and validate their reactions; helping children identify an adult at school they can go to if they feel at risk; reviewing procedures and safeguards at school and home; and limiting exposure to images or graphic references on TV and social media.
District 303 spokesperson Carol Smith said the district spent about $1 million several years ago to improve building security by installing two-tier entries, among other steps.
District 220 Superintendent Dr. Robert Hunt, in a letter to parents, said the district plans to maintain a normal routine, but teachers, school psychologists and social workers "are prepared to address any anxiety that arises because of this tragedy."
Students can visit the "See Something, Say Something" page of the district's website, barrington220.org, to anonymously alert principals about threats or bullying or request emotional support.
Glenbard High School District 87 is providing access to counselors and social workers, as well as referrals to mental health services. It is also making available helplines for bullying prevention, crisis assistance and anonymous tips.
"Events like yesterday make us review our current procedures and what we have done for our training, to ensure that we are as prepared as possible and will support the safety of our school community," said Adrian Talley, superintendent of Indian Prairie Unit District 204.
The recent spate of shootings, not only at Robb Elementary School, but also at the Tops grocery store in Buffalo, New York, raised a red flag for the Illinois Education Association, which issued a statement calling for "common sense laws to help stop weapons from getting into the hands of those too sick to handle them," and pleaded for the restoration of "mental health services that once existed in our schools."
• Daily Herald staff writers Katlyn Smith, Susan Sarkauskas and Kevin Schmit contributed to this story.