The proposed intergovernment agreement for the city to enforce a “Safe School Zone” around Evanston Township High School needs to have reporting provisions added to guard against abuse.

The poorly drafted state statute authorizing the zone gives essentially unfettered discretion to school administrators to order anyone to leave the sidewalk across from the school or face arrest.

Yes, the school official is supposed to have “reasonable suspicion” that the person plans to “disrupt the orderly operation” of the school. But it provides no way for the public to know how often the power was invoked, how many people it was used against, or what the actual justification for its use was.

I tend to believe ETHS and Evanston police officials when they say they plan to use the expanded powers very sparingly.

But in that case it should impose no great burden to add reporting requirements to the intergovernmental agreement to log how often people are asked to move and for what reasons, how many are asked to move, whether they complied and how many arrests occurred as a result of non-compliance.

People have a right to use the public sidewalks and to congregate there in a peaceful fashion. If we’re going to impose limits on that right around the high school, we need to be sure that the limits are being applied in the least restrictive way that will meet the important security goals.

Providing a public record of how the new powers are used is one key step in making sure it’s done right.

Related stories

No ‘safe zone’ for ETHS opening

Neighbors question ‘safe school zone’ plan

Related documents

‘Safe zone’ memo to school board

Proposed safe school zone boundary map

State ‘Safe School Zone’ statute

Proposed ‘Safe School Zone’ intergovernmental agreement (at page 880)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Safe Zone Miscommunication

    I support safety for all children – obvious statement. I also support the concept of a Safe Zone around our schools. I also support respecting all citizens in our community.

    Watch and listen to Dr. Witherspoon's and citizens' comments before City Council on Aug 12th:

    (under videos go to 1 hour, 6 min and 40 seconds; 1:06:40)

    There is clearly an inconsistency between Dr. Witherspoon's perspective and the perspective of residents in the surrounding neighborhood.

    Hopefully, the ETHS Administration and the leadership in the City of Evanston can learn from their mistakes, and restart these conversations in a comprehensive, thoughtful and respectful manner so that all parties can let their concerns be heard and addressed.

    School starts Monday August 26th – all students need to be safe.




  2. Peaceful fashion??

    You say "People have a right to use the public sidewalks and to congregate there in a peaceful fashion." ??  Ummm, I don't think school officials are talking about moving these people along that are congregating in a peaceful fashiion!!!!  Isn't "extending the safe zone" exactly about what the school officials say "extending the safe zone" is about?? Moving along people that don't belong at the school because they are starting trouble?  Simple!  If the neighbors to the school are not starting trouble, I don't think they will be "moved along"!  Do people think there is an underlying, hidden agenda with this extended safe zone?  I think it's simply to keep our kids safe, no?  What the heck??  Let's just get it done.  I wouldn't mind seeing a daily/weekly/monthly report as it would affirm the need for the said "extended safe zone".  If ya ain't doin nothin wrong, you ain't got nothin ta worry about!!!!

    1. Take a deep breath, J.

      @J, take a deep breath.  The editiorial acknowledges that there is likely no hidden agenda, and that the powers of a safe zone will be used sparingly, but a little accountability would be beneficial.  Allowing government staff (school employees) to force citizens off the public way is a very big power that can certainly be used in an abusive and discriminatory fashion (whether intentional or not).  And your notion that "If ya ain't doin nothin wrong, you ain't got nothin ta worry about!!!!" is a very naive view that has regularly been proven wrong as it relates to government policies made under the guise of safety.

      1. I would hope for accountability!

        Thanks Bill, I would think there would be accountability…?  Did the proposal state otherwise?  I am very aware of a possiblity of power being used in an abusive and discriminatory fashion.  I'm more aware of what I see and hear and read about the ridiculous out of control behavior at the school.  I make no excuse for being sick of risking people getting their feelings hurt and them being uncomfy while putting innocent children at risk!!!  I moved here in 2006 and was so excitted and still love Evanston but, am so disappointed in the behavior of some people around the High School.  So sad, so scary, so disappointing, makes me want to move, etc.,  I feel like I'm going to have to hold my breath for the 4 years my children will be there. 

  3. With all due respect

    With all due respect Mr. Smith, I believe you and anyone not in favor of the Safe School Zone agreement are way overthinking this whole issue. I've spent some time in front of ETHS when school is let out (I was a sub for a number of years). It is mass chaos every afternoon, even with numerous administrators and safety officials trying to keep things under control. And why is there vertually no security presence in the back of the school? Its a numbers issue: less students, less chances of problems. This is a public safety issue, nothing more, nothing less… and for residents to think that their rights are going to be infringed upon…is sadly pure ignorance.

    1. Miss the point

      Where did you get the impression that I'm not in favor of a safe school zone agreement?

      That's not what the column says. I just think there should be reports to track how it actually is implemented.

      That way we'll be able to tell whether anybody's rights are infringed.

      Transparency shouldn't be too much to ask in Evanston.

      — Bill

    2. False choice between safety and civil rights

      With all due respect, why must we always be forced into a false choice between safety and civil rights?

      I have concerns about the Safe School Zone as proposed without "way overthinking" but top of mind thinking. What if the "zone" as proposed  (an issue in itself) is not deemed to be large enough? What if the "trouble makers" just wait a block away? Are the problems just pushed out into the residential neighboorhoods? How large will the "zone" need to be in a month? In a year? Will Wesley/Brown/Emerson/Lake be the next zone? Who decides?

      Who decides that I am a trouble maker? What if I live on a street in the "zone", or want to visit a relative? Can i use the sidewalk? If iI get on the list, how do I get off?

      These are legitimate questions and I'm not even warmed up yet. We allow the court to take away civil rights for violations against society all of the time because there is due process. Under this proposal, unnamed people in "the administration" and "the Police" can take away rights to free association and travel with unclear due process. Those are some of the points Mr. Smith raises. Under what circumstances will these rights be removed? Is there an appeal? Can they be restored?

      Every despot in history has used "public safety" as a reason to violate human rights. In Egypt today, over 600 people were slaughtered in the name of "security."

      The Safe School Zone may add value and be the right thing to do. But if it is the best thing to do, can't we take our time and get this right with the support and understanding of the broader community?

      1. What if’s… you must try and think reasonably

        If you not making any trouble, you are not a trouble maker.  Why would "you" not be able to use the sidewalk if a relative came over?  Think reasonably.  If you or they were making trouble then you/they would be a trouble maker.  If you or they were not making trouble then you/they would not be a trouble maker then they would not get into trouble.  It's nice having relatives visit as well as implementing a larger safe zone around a school in the middle of a war zone to help keep our kids safe.  Again, reasonable thinking.  What if's…?  What if we don't expand the school zone?  Ok, don't expand the school zone.  What would be another/different idea that would make these people opposed feel better?

        1. Overstatements are a problem

          I suggest that you read the statute that Mr. Smith provided if you think questions about designation and affected areas are unreasonable. The state statute is vague, poorly worded and non specific. All the citiziens and business owners in the affected areas ask for is some clarification. If this proposal is fine, why the rush? The Council answer isn't "no;" it's a request for clarity and transparency. Would getting this implemented "on time" then subsequently overturned by a court be a better option? If this is the right idea, what is the problem of taking another 30 days or so to answer questions in a community that supports "stop and frisk?"

          As for getting it ready in time for school, don't you think approaching City Council on Aug 12 with school starting in two weeks is cutting it a little close? Do you believe that District 202 would have identified the "troublemakers", sent the ceritfied letters required and posted signs within ten days of school starting? If this Safe School Zone is so important for safety around ETHS, why the last minute rush and confusion? CPS started the "Safe Passage" program to get ready for travel before and after school in June to prepare for August. Why is this proposal so late if getting started on the first day of school is the priority?

          Finally, as someone who lives 3 blocks from ETHS, in my opinion, anyone who thinks it is a "war zone" hasn't seen one. In my view, this type of excitable language is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

          1. Exitable language is the passion!

            Exitable language is the passion to keep my children alive and not surrounded by a bunch of unnecessary chaos.  It's a serious problem that warrants passion and excitability.  If you visited/lived in a district that does not have this you going on you could see the posibility.  Otherwise you know no different and it's not a big deal to you.  Kind of just grows on you and you accept it, no?

        2. The problem with defining trouble makers.

          If you or they were making trouble then you/they would be a trouble maker.  If you or they were not making trouble then you/they would not be a trouble maker then they would not get into trouble.

          I take it you haven't questioned authority much in your life.  Too often those that question authority are deemed trouble makers.  MLK, Gandhi, Mandella, etc. have all been deemed trouble makers.

          1. Questioned authority?

            Sure but not to the point of being arrested for it.  Oh wait… yes I have and yes I got arrested!  I did not get arrested however, for questioning authority I got arrested for my behavior.  Think logically!  Is it "you're" opinion that these people were trouble makers or were you taught that?

  4. Racial issue..?

    Someone please educate me!  I listened to the counsel meeting on Aug 12th and a lady expressed that the safe zone was really a racial issue.  I am so confused.  Please help!

  5. Drones -Yeah! That’s the ticket

    I'm serious. Nobodys rights will be infringed apon. If people know they are being watched they are more likeley to act within the law.

    1. Pole Cameras—what happened

      The Council promiised cameras on poles several years ago.

      What happened to them ?

      Just a political stunt to get votes and hope it is forgotten ?

      1. Cameras around ETHS

        Word from Police Chief Eddington is that the city and school district are still working with vendors to get the system designed and installed.

        Plans for the project were first discussed publicly last November.

        — Bill

        1. Typical EPD PR nonsense

          The EPD do this sort of thing all the time: come out with some grand press release about how they are going to do something proactive to deal with crime and then the initiative fades away as the ink from the press release runs dry.

          Take, for example, the Peoria Policemobile that the department bought after visiting the Illinois cornbelt city.  The idea was to park it in front of problematic areas to get surveilance footage. 

          Last time I saw it, it was parked in the lot behind the police station.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published.