District 65 offices at the JEH Education Center.

The chair of School District 65’s finance committee says a different security plan will replace what has become a half-million-dollar expense for round-the-clock armed bodyguards for Superintendent Devon Horton.

Joey Hailpern, who heads the school board’s finance panel, tells Evanston Now that “the entire security framework for Dr. Horton and across the district is being reviewed.”

School Board Finance Chair Joey Hailpern (center) and Superintendent Devon Horton (left).

The year-long bodyguard agreement with a private security firm expires on Thursday, June 30.

Hailpern says he has not yet seen a final draft of a new security plan, but he anticipates it will be a “broader reimagining” of how security is handled in all school buildings, and not simply an armed guard for the leader of the district.

Horton signed the bodyguard contract on July 1. The $65-per-hour cost (as well as time-and-a-half for holidays) has totaled close to $500,000, and will likely top that mark when the cost for June is added in.

The security deal took effect shortly after a window in Horton’s car was discovered smashed at the District 65 office parking lot. The superintendent and other school system employees and board members had also received offensive, profane and often racist emails, postcards, and voicemail messages since August 2020.

Horton said two of those calls in July, 2021 contained “threats of bodily harm.”

As Evanston Now has previously reported, both police and even some of District 65’s own administrators have concluded the majority of the 40-plus messages received over a two-year period were not directly threatening. But Hailpern says the half-a-million dollar price tag for Horton’s security is reasonable under the circumstances.

He adds, “There was a point when I wanted Dr. Horton to have security but he didn’t want it.”

Hailpern also says that not every potential threat to a public person ends up in a police report before something terrible happens.

“Those threats are real,” he adds.

“I was here when Ricky Byrdsong was shot,” Hailpern says.

Byrdsong, the first African-American head coach at Northwestern University, was murdered in Skokie in 1999, two years after leaving the school, as part of an apparently random shooting spree by a white supremacist who attacked Blacks, Asians and Orthodox Jews in multiple communities.

“I don’t walk the streets as a Black man,” Hailpern adds. “I’m going through the experience as a white man.”

Hailpern, who lives in the Skokie portion of District 65, says school officials “at different points have received different messages left in different ways.”

In his case, Hailpern says, offensive materials were put in his mailbox at home.

He contacted Skokie police, who provided a “special watch” (increased patrol checks) for Hailpern’s house at least three times.

“I did what I needed to do for my family and I to feel comfortable,” Hailpern says.

The board member also says that while $500,000 for security is a lot of money, “a price tag versus the value of a life is hard to evaluate.”

Elaborating, Hailpern adds “the price tag is real, too. It’s the cost of the vitriol of what’s going on in our community.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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8 Comments

  1. Thanks for the solid reporting. Reading through the police reports it is clear that the ‘threats’ were relatively typical of what someone in an executive position of public service has to deal with. Most mature people would not call the police when they received a postcard with a Bible verse on it.

    The car window break is most revealing and shows the continued mendacity of Horton. The window break–which the police report says occurred on June 21, 2021–makes no determination about cause or even mentions that harassment was even discussed as a motive. There are car break-ins every week in Evanston.

    On June 29 2021, the Deemar v District 65 court case was filed.

    Then on July 10, 2021 Horton releases a statement saying: “Surrounding the polarizing media coverage of the lawsuit and its characterization of our District, Superintendent Horton received two voice messages containing racial slurs and threats of bodily harm and his car window was broken while parked in a District lot by what appeared to be an intentional act of vandalism.”

    So here we have this guy claiming that the window break is “an intentional act of vandalism” related to “polarizing media coverage” of a lawsuit that was filed more than a week after the car incident? How is that even possible?

    Of course the folks ultimately responsible for this ridiculous security deal are the Board. I think Halperin’s attempt to somehow link it to the Ricky Birdsong murder is cynical dissimulation at its worst. The Birdsong murder was a random attack and has nothing in common with Horton’s situation.

    1. Thinking about the Byrdsong murder – I can see why he would be freaked out. I think we should all have some sympathy for people of color who have to live through the fear of non-sense like that. I don’t think private security would’ve been unreasonable during those periods when D65 was dragged into the national news and he had active death threats. However, after a period of time, the heat from that stuff dies down and his security detail should’ve been cut back.

      Not to mention, Horton and the Board are deliberately putting themselves out there in the national media as part of a PR strategy. Horton had a big WSJ biography done and they deliberately try to troll folks, like when the district published some random guy’s hateful emails. I’m not sure the voters of Evanston elected the board and Horton to do this — just run the school district and educate our kids. I’m not sure I want my schoolboard fighting the culture war battles with the right, who are more than happy to lob death threats with zero repercussions.

      1. The district wasn’t “dragged into the media spotlight”. Horton sought out media attention and did the WSJ interview. What did he think was going to happen? I agree with the point that LWB has its dangers and there are inherent fears associated. Millions of Americans are LWB and don’t have Secret Security 24/7. This is hubris to think anyone cares this much. If they did, EPD would have found credible threats. Also- see the point above about the timing of the window breakage and lawsuit. He is an untruthful human being who was third choice and we got stuck with him because our board is incompetent. Money down the drain on security that would have been used for teacher-paid items in the classroom! Wake UP, Evanston! If you are a tax payer you should be ANGRY!

  2. Anti-racist does not mean anti-accountability. This is something the board and Dr. Horton don’t seem to understand.

  3. boy i wonder what that money could have done for security at. you know that middle school that had a lot of issues what was it called, oh yea Haven with all the fights

    1. Wait – are you suggesting that our school district should have prioritized the needs of kids? How quaint!

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