District 65 Board of Education special meeting, July 13.

The Evanston/Skokie Board of Education has approved an updated security/crisis management plan which incorporates high tech apps and low tech human interaction.

But the daily, round-the-clock, armed bodyguard for Superintendent Devon Horton, which cost the district approximately $500,000 over the past year, has been eliminated.

In fact, funding for the bodyguard will now help pay for the new measures, as will other funding sources.

The Board unanimously approved the plan during a special meeting Wednesday morning.

A key component of the program adds what the district calls a “school concierge” to each of the system’s 16 buildings.

According to the District 65 job board, “The purpose of the school concierge is to welcome and guide visitors, staff and community members to the school while promoting a safe environment for all who visit, attend and/or work in the school.”

Assistant Superintendent Terrance Little.

Assistant Superintendent Terrance Little, who is in charge of implementing the new program, said the concierge will control access to the building, monitor “Hall Pass” I-D badges so it’s known who’s inside, and “vigilantly walk around” to keep an eye out for trouble.

While this may sound like a school resource officer, minus the gun and the badge, Little said “we’re not asking them to jump in the line of fire,” just be a presence to call for other help if needed, or handle issues if calling 9-1-1 is not deemed necessary.

School resource officers are armed, uniformed police officers who are stationed in schools. District 65 dropped SRO’s three years ago. District 202, Evanston Township High School, still has them. Supporters say stationing police in school improves safety and builds police-student relationships. Critics say SRO’s lead to a disproportionate number of Black and brown students being arrested.

“We are not going back to SRO’s,” said board member Biz Lindsay-Ryan, who said the new security program also should have a mental health component.

District 65 is also looking, however, for two people with extensive police or military backgrounds, to fill newly created positions of manager and assistant manager of Prevention and Special Response.

Besides at least a decade’s worth of experience in law enforcement or millitary service, including administration, the jobs also call for “experience with the safe use of firearms and Tasers.”

The updated security/crisis management plan also includes 3-D photos from inside every school, so first responders can see a building’s layout before they go inside; a “Smart Tag” card which students swipe when they board the school bus, so drivers know who is riding, and, if on the way home, who’s supposed to get off the bus where; and ID badges for middle school students.

The board dropped an administration proposal for alarm badges which could be worn by teachers.

As explained, the badges would have a button which teachers could push to either call for help, or even put the building into shutdown.

Board member Joey Hailpern, a former principal in Highland Park, said there were such badges/buttons where he used to work, but they were “traumatizing” for the staff and were never even used.

It’s uncertain when all of the new programs will take effect. Some are already in the mix, others are being negotiated with providers, and hiring 16 concierges before school starts in late August seems like a challenge.

In fact, Little said phasing everything, including more training, in may take two to three years.

Little also said “if we can save one baby, two babies, three babies due to our training, you can’t put a price tag on that.”

Unfortunately, however, there is a price tag for new employees and new technology.

Administrators said that the $500,000 from Horton’s bodyguard protection, plus money saved from bringing substitute teacher management back in-house instead of contracting with a private firm (which cost $1 million not counting teacher salaries), and shifting some money from a lawsuit settlement fund, as such cases are decreasing, will pay for the new security.

The exact total was not given, however, Horton said the money “already exists, there’s no additional dollars, so we have it all covered.”

Horton also thanked the board for the 24/7 bodyguard protection over the past year. The guard contract was signed following a number of ugly and racist messages, along with the window of Horton’s car being smashed.

“My family and I are thankful” for the protection, Horton said, “but we are now in a position where we … feel safe.”

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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  1. EvanstonNow literally, single-handedly, got the security removed and saved the board $500K. Crazy. Had Horton not opened his mouth about the ’round the clock security’ he would have kept it and nobody would have known. Good job EN – have to keep these people (politicians, board members) in check.

  2. Where did the $500k that Horton spent on personal security come from in the first place? It’s fine and dandy that the board and administration wants to improve safety in the schools, but this isn’t found” money, is it?

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