District 65 offices at the JEH Education Center.

The Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board will be given an updated security plan during a special meeting Wednesday morning.

The memo, from Assistant Superintendent Terrance Little, outlines “various options to optimize the effectiveness of our Crisis Management System.”

However, there is no potential price tag stated for any of the options, and there is also no mention of what will happen to the round-the-clock-armed-bodyguard for Superintendent Devon Horton.

The contract amendment for that year-long protection, which is costing District 65 approximately $500,000, expired on June 30.

Evanston Now had filed a Freedom of Information request with the district, asking for any documents relating to possible extension of that arrangement with the provider, Phoenix Security, or for developing a new contract for such services.

The reply, dated June 22, said “There are no records responsive to this request.”

On June 29, the school board’s Finance Committee Chair, Joey Hailpern, told Evanston Now that “the entire security framework for Dr. Horton and across the district is being reviewed.”

While Hailpern said he had not seen the proposal, he believed it would be a “broader reimagining” of security for the district, and not just an armed guard for the superintendent.

The memo from Assistant Superintendent Litttle on this Wednesday’s agenda says that “because of the noticeable surge in violence across the country” along with “a concurrent uptick” in violence in schools, “District 65 is taking more aggressive measures to protect and prepare its schools, students, staff and stakeholders for whatever comes.”

Little says the district “has initiated negotiatons and partnerships” with several crisis mitigation and response organizations.

Among those options are:

  • Navigate 360, a software program which includes Behavioral Threat Assessment, Suicide Prevention Training, and other risk assessments.
  • Hall Pass, which would be managed by front office staff, and require all school visitors to provide an ID that will be scanned into the school’s system. Visitors will be given an ID badge to wear.
  • Centegix, which is described as “an incident response system,” which “specializes in incident alerting solutions to turn schools into safer spaces.”
  • Hiring a school building concierge for each building, “who will monitor the main entrance, welcome, guide and direct visitors, staff and community members into the school while maintaining a safe space for all.”
  • Having a manager/assistant manager of prevention and special response to implement and coordinate all district safety initiatives.
  • Having Little, the assistant superintendent of operations, as the “point of contact for crisis management and planning.”
  • Smart Tag, software designed to streamline communications among bus drivers, schools, the bus dispatch center and parents.

As for the Horton bodyguard contract, which was implemented following the superintendent’s car window being smashed in the school parking lot, as well as a number of racist and ugly messages, it’s still unclear what, if anything, will happen next.

Round-the-clock security was an amendment to an already-existing contract with Phoenix Security for things such as checking buildings on weekends and holidays.

That larger contract, with the bodyguard amendment, also expired June 30, however, there is language which says the deal “may be renewed by mutual written agreement of the parties.”

While the District 65 response to the FOIA request indicated there was no such renewal as of June 22, it is at least possible that something took place since then.

There was no public mention of the bodyguard amendment and its $65-per-hour cost when the agreement was signed last summer. The arrangement only became known in May of this year when the superintendent mentioned having armed security during a school board meeting.

In the memo for Wednesday, Little says the district’s crisis management team is open to suggestions for the best district-specific security program.

He says the updated Crisis Management Plan “was born of the need to restore some semblance of tranquility to the community and make certain that District 65 is properly equipped and trained in case the unthinkable happens.”

The statistical reality is that schools are relatively safe places, according to a National Institute of Justice report but mass shootings like the recent murder of 19 students and 2 teachers in Uvalde, Texas, along with other incidents in recent years around the nation have increased leading to more fear and an increased awareness of security.

While weapons were not discharged, the discovery of two loaded guns at Evanston Township High School in December caused a re-examination of what schools can do to improve both the reality and the perception of security.

Police leaving the high school on Dec. 16, 2021, apparently carrying evidence from the gun incident. (Bill Smith photo)

“Everyone,” District 65’s Little says, “is entitled to feel safe in school environments.”

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 Comment

  1. Didn’t we just get done putting secure entryways into all of the schools? I am not sure that anything referenced here is going to make our kids safer. It is almost as if they don’t want to hire classroom/instructional staff.

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