Evanston Township High School won’t have a “safe zone” in place in time for the start of classes later this month.
The security measure pushed by the school board and school administrators was held by Evanston aldermen Monday in the face of continued opposition from several neighborhood activists.
School Safety Director Sam Pettineo told Evanston Now this morning that he anticipates the new powers police would gain under the proposed agreement would be used very sparingly.
“If we use last year as an indication,” Pettineo said, “I bet we won’t invoke it more than five times next year.”
Pettineo says most days dismissal time at the high school goes smoothly, but occasionally security officials receive tips from students that a fight is brewing.
“We want to uses this in a very limited way to prevent conflicts from happening,” he added.
With the school safe zone in place, he says, security officers could ask a youth standing across the street from the school waiting to pick a fight with a student coming out of the building to move along. And if the person didn’t, they could be arrested by Evanston police and charged with criminal trespass.
As an example of a situation in which the safe zone provision could be helpful, Pettineo said that last year two students who had ties to rival factions of a Chicago street gang were in involved in a dispute through the school year.
At one point one of them was inviting other members of the Gangster Disciples gang to the school to intervene if he got into a dispute with the other kid, the security chief said.
The state statute authorizing the expanded school safe zone went into effect in 2012, and Pettineo says he discovered it several months ago while doing research on things the school could do that could have an impact on the crime problem.
After discussing the idea with Evanston Police Chief Richard Eddington, Pettineo says, the language for the joint agreement between the school district and the city was developed by the legal staff of both entities.
Eddington says the the school is trying to descalate conflict before it breaks out into violence.
While one part of the statute applies to students who’ve been suspended or expelled, Eddington said students wouldn’t be automatically barred from the school zone for that.
Pettineo said no students were actually expelled last year, although as many as 30 were sent to alternative school placements off campus for disciplinary reasons.
“We don’t ban them,” Pettineo said, “but we just tell them they have to notify us before they come back on the property.”
In addition, less than a dozen adults were sent trespass letters last year, he added. Those could involve parents who created a disturbance in the school or former students who came back on campus to cause trouble.
“We’ve had situtations in the past,” Pettineo said, “where the older brothers or sisters of students involved in a conflict come back to campus to participate in a conflict they’re having with other students.”
But the complaining neighbors — decades beyond school age themselves — voiced fears Monday night that they wouldn’t be able to leave their homes or walk down the street without being harassed by police.
The ETHS board agreed to terms of the proposed agreement with the city at a board meeting June 24.
But apparently no formal outreach was done to residents of the area immediately around the school.
Opposition to the proposal first emerged when it came before the City Council’s Human Services Committee last week.
The lack of outreach by school officials was criticized Monday by Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, who said she’d visited every business in the area on Saturday and none had heard about the proposal.
But School Board President Gretchen Livingston in a post on her Facebook page Tuesday, blamed city officials for the delay, saying none of the city officials on the City-School Liaison Committee raised concerns about the proposal at a meeting of the committee in May and that the city then cancelled its July Human Services Committee meeting where the proposal was to have been discussed.
Aldermen said they planned to schedule a public meeting on the proposal hosted by the City-School Liaison Committee for sometime before the next City Council meeting on Sept. 9.
Proposed “Safe School Zone” intergovernmental agreement (at page 880)