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Local

DeKalb County schools invest in security measures – the obvious and not-so-obvious

You can’t put a price on security for kids, superintendent says

GENOA – Brent O’Daniell posted a photo on Twitter at the end of October to update the community on news in the school district. The superintendent was highlighting a new barricade system Genoa-Kingston School District 424 was installing in buildings across the district.

He said the tweet has led to him receiving calls and questions from administrators and community members about everything from cost to thank-yous.

“I had no idea how much interest that would create,” he said. “I fielded a lot of questions from administrators, community members, parents. I had no idea that one tweet would create this kind of dialogue.”

The Nightlock Lockdown barricade, eventually to be installed on all classroom doors in the district, inserts a metal peg into two metal plates – one attached to the base of the door, and one installed in the floor. The device uses the force of the floor to secure the door shut.

O’Daniell said one of the big hurdles to using a barricade system was receiving approval from the fire marshal. Although security is important, whatever system was in place could not trap people in classrooms.

The cost for the barricades on each classroom door in the district will come to about $10,000, O’Daniell said.

“You can’t put a price on security for kids,” he said.

The barricade system is the latest in changes local school districts are making to beef up security at school buildings. Security updates can be obvious, such as uniformed police officers at schools, barricades in classrooms and secure entrances. Some changes are more subtle, however.

O’Daniell said District 424 subscribes to a phone app that provides teachers and administrators with access to emergency protocols and plans. For example, the NaviGate Prepared app allows teachers instant access to materials that outline procedures for any type of emergency – from fire to tornado to intruder.

Local first responders also have access to the app and the schools’ emergency plans.

Getting ahead of it

At Sycamore High School, visible changes have been made in recent years to make the building more secure. At hallway intersections, mirrors allow people to see around corners before turning them.

In addition to traditional red fire alarms, blue call boxes are positioned throughout the halls that immediately call a police dispatch center that contacts law enforcement – the Illinois State Police, DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office and Sycamore Police Department.

“It brings everyone,” Principal Tim Carlson said.

The BluePoint Alerts are one of the drills the school practices throughout the year. Students know to pull the alarm only in a serious situation such as if a weapon is involved, Carlson said,
and when it goes off, he said the hallways clear in 15 seconds, students ducking into the safety of classrooms quickly.

Sycamore schools Superintendent Kathy Countryman said the district focuses a lot on communication in its preparedness.

“We keep staff and students trained on safety practices and protocols,” she said.

At the high school, the student senate also has input and makes requests for changes or procedures they would like to see.

“Another piece is that we want our students involved,” she said.

Carlson said communication with students is key.

“They know if someone is suffering,” he said. Students will bring school officials’ attention to behaviors or statements on social media that will allow the school to intervene. In recent years, the school has added a social worker to help with students, Carlson said.

“There’s always a back story to what’s going on,” he said.

In DeKalb, District 428 Superintendent Jaime Craven said the district has many of the same safeguards as other schools. This year, the district added a third school resource officer who will primarily serve the district’s eight elementary schools.

In a more high-tech vein, the district monitors all traffic going through its servers. Some cybersecurity procedures are in place to prevent malicious attacks, such as ransomware or an attempt to access district finances.

Ben Bayle, the district’s chief technology officer, said web traffic monitoring began as a way to ensure that students weren’t exposed to offensive materials.

Now they look for other warning signs.

“Anything from self-harm to cyberbullying,” Bayle said. “Anything that can be thought of as a threat.”

“Early intervention,” Craven said, “is always going to be the key.”

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