“As we learn more about any areas of vulnerability, we study issues that have happened, we have to then step back and say, 'What can we do to put more layers of protections and security for our students and staff?'" said District 90 Superintendent Carrie Hruby.
Following his retirement from the force after 28 years, former O’Fallon Police Capt. Mark Berry was hired by the district as its safety and security director in 2016. Since the fall, Berry has been working to "identify areas of concern, vulnerability and forge solutions," according Hruby.
Berry’s plan, recently completed, is now being put into action.
"We've been working on a five-phase security project to add extra layers of security inside and outside of all of our district schools. And, right now, phase one is in the process of being approved for bids, and our hope is to start over the summer," said Berry.
There are five elementary schools in District 90: Delores Moye, Marie Schaefer, Hinchcliffe, Estelle Kampmeyer, and LaVerna Evans. There are also two junior high schools: Carriel and Fulton.
However, even before those incidents, the Board of Education had already voted to move forward with security upgrades.
Phase one of the plan was approved in February.
Phase one will add a number of exterior and interior cameras at each building.
Currently, there are cameras installed at all the schools, inside and outside, but not as many as the district would like, Berry said.
Upgrades to the system will include placing four to six external and two to four internal cameras per school building, which could total a maximum of 70 additional cameras. The new the web-based camera system will also require new software.
Conversations are currently underway with various vendors about different equipment and software products and packages available, Hruby said.
"We're looking at camera systems that the police department would have access to, as well as Mark and our principals -- so we can log in on one of our district office iPads or iPhones and see those real-time cameras at any time from an outside, secure and remote location," Hruby said.
"We would be able to provide public safety access 24/7,” Berry said. “So they could look at those cameras at any time. Or, if there was a crisis, they could give real-time updates to first-responders, and they would be able to tap into the video system and gain access to the premises immediately."
Exterior doors at each school will also be equipped with electronic card or code access panels to limit entry at each building to only authorized persons.
"So, there will be several doors on the exterior of every school that will have electronic access to where you would read a card or you would be able to use a digit code to enter into the buildings," Berry said.
There are about 42 external doors that will need to be electronically re-keyed, Berry said.
But the new locks will not change how the public can use the buildings, Hruby said.
“We still want to be very accessible for the community, because the schools belong to the community, and the taxpayers own those schools," said Hruby, adding, "We do open our doors for ball games, for the rec department, for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. We have lots of community members who are in our schools with children's programs. So we don't want to stop that, but we want to make sure it's secure."
Having key code access can also be a "great security feature” for after-school events. Access codes could be assigned to people for certain buildings on specific dates during a specific time frame.
"That way, we don't have to worry about: 'Who has keys, who doesn't, have we collected those?' … Issuing cards to everyone would be cumbersome and difficult to manage, but if we have a code, we can change that regularly,” Hruby said.
Staff would have access cards or codes.
The cost of phase one is estimated at about $238,000, and will be funded through the Health Life Safety Fund, which, according to Hruby, was approved by the Illinois State Board of Education recently.
"Our goal is we hope to have all of this implemented over the summer. And, at the beginning of the school year, we will have all of this in place, and there will be new protocols and procedures," Berry said.
The board has also talked of having the next couple of phases "accelerated," but those expenditures have yet to come before the board for final approval, Berry said.
Following phase one, the goal is to remodel the front entrances of the schools to have physically controlled access to the buildings.
“Any visitor to the school would be immediately directed to the school office," Berry said.
Visitors would not have access to hallways or other areas of the school where students may be.
Right now, when a person visits a District 90 school, they have to push a button that alerts the office. A staff member then views a monitor to see who pushed the button and then elect whether or not to let that person in the building.
"We feel a more controlled entrance for visitors at our schools will add another layer of security. New designs and estimates are currently in progress with the support of the district's architects," Berry said.
What about a police officer?
"I hope we can hire some additional SROs (school resource officers), if we can find the money," said District 90 School Board member Mary Baskett.
Hiring additional personnel, such as SROs, is an option included in one of the future phases of the project, but not set in stone, Hruby said.
"Last month, we brought to the board a sample job description. So they've started that conversation of: ‘What does that look like?’” Hruby said.
Currently, the only O'Fallon/ Shiloh school that has an SRO is O'Fallon Township High School.
4E/Active Shooter Training
With the rash of mass shootings that have plagued the country, law enforcement has had to become more proactive when it comes to active-shooter events. The 4E Active Killer presentation provides education, but also talks real-life options — escape, evade, engage — should bullets begin to fly.
"We made sure all of our staff went through that training and used our school improvement days to move around to each of the schools, and the O'Fallon Police came in and offered that training for half-days sessions," Hruby said.
St. Louis-based company Tier One Tactical Solutions trained O’Fallon police officers in the program. In turn, OPD has done training with both public or private groups, like local schools, churches and businesses, at no cost.
Other school districts on 4E training
Several teachers and administrators at O'Fallon Central 104 School District have participated individually in the O'Fallon Police 4E/Active Shooter training, but "we have not participated as a whole district," said Dawn Elser, Central 104 superintendent.
"We have talked with the O'Fallon Police Department and plan to take part in an active-shooter drill next school year during one of our professional development days," Elser said.
O'Fallon Township High School teachers and staff have the 4E training under their belts, according to Darcy Benway, OTHS District 203 superintendent.
"The training was excellent. It provided the administration, faculty, and staff with great insight. OTHS' preparedness is improved as a result of this training. Our plan, beginning next year, will be to hold annual trainings," Benway said.
Dale Sauer, Shiloh 85 superintendent, said, his district's training is forthcoming.
"We will be conducting that training at the end of this school year with teachers and staff," Sauer said.