Schools work on safety, security improvements

Local News

MAHOMET, MONTICELLO, and CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — Over the last several months, districts across the state have been working on adding safety and security improvements.

Those include things like safe rooms, cameras, school resource officers, and advanced staff training. Some had these upgrades planned for a long time. For others, they’re coming just as the subject of school safety has become a bigger concern than it used to be.

This fall, Mahomet-Seymour’s first and second graders will be taught at Middletown Prairie Elementary for the first time.

“The whole building has been designed around the best practices of school safety,” says Superintendent Lindsey Hall.

She says that’s one of the perks that came with constructing a new building.

“We have safe rooms, we have a gym that’s a FEMA-rated storm shelter, we’ve got an entryway that’s designed around the best practices of how we let visitors into the building.”  

While that’s great for the kids that will walk those halls, we don’t need to tell you older schools don’t have the same “Fort Knox” factor.

“It’s very difficult, sometimes, with older buildings, to do some of those school safety concepts,” says Hall.

Last month, we also spoke with Monticello school administrators about what they’re working on. Thanks to their referendum passing, their high school will have a new entry in a few years. Superintendent Vic Zimmerman told us they installed security cameras in all of their elementary schools. They plan to do the same at the high school and middle school this summer.

“We have excellent teachers. Our families are very supportive,” Zimmerman told us back in April, “The only need of improvement that I could see was facilities and that’s why we’ve been working on it for the last six years.”

And Champaign schools are working with police on a plan to involve students in active shooter drills. They’re also looking into giving their staff trauma and mental health first aid training.

“Teaching the basics, you know, what to do, where to go, those fundamentals are very important,” says parent George Payton, of Champaign.

We took a straw poll to ask parents which safety or security upgrades give them the most peace of mind.

“I think there’s an over-emphasis on more security, when there’s no need for it. I mean, I don’t want my children to live in fear,” says Payton.

“I think that the buzzers, letting people in and out of schools, are a great idea,” says Sarah Thomas of Tolono, “I think schools really need to know who is coming and going.”

 “It’s sad, it’s scary,” says Brittani Armstrong of Champaign, “It’s just as harmful in school now as it is outside of school sometimes.”

“I think it’s sad,” says Thomas, “I remember when I was a kid, and this just wasn’t stuff that people thought about. You could come and go to school no problem. Parents came in, no problem, and You never questioned the safety of it.”

Of course, those safety and security changes are just a sample of what some districts are doing. The administrators we spoke with say they’re not planning on adding metal detectors at this time, but they did come up as part of the conversation.

On Wednesday night, the Piatt county board will talk about the possibility of adding a resource officer in Monticello schools.

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