Illinois school safety group offers preliminary suggestions

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois educators should explore sharing private student information with local officials when facing potential emergencies and train students to speak up about suspicious activities, a group studying school safety has recommended.

A preliminary report the School Security and Standards Task Force sent to legislators last week comes in response to the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut. A final version must be delivered to the State Board of Education by July 1.

Among the suggestions is a proposal to create a school district "threat team," which could take advantage of emergency exceptions to federal and state student-privacy laws prohibiting sharing personal information with police. A State Board of Education spokesman could not immediately elaborate on the proposal.

The task force also recommends that schools look to federal and industry ideas for retrofitting buildings and review emergency-response protocol that go by monikers such as "ALICE" — Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate. The Department of Homeland Security's "See Something, Say Something" program could help schools develop environments where students aren't afraid to speak up about comments or actions that unnerve them.

The final version is expected to retain the ideas as recommendations, not requirements, because members found the state's economic, geographical, and cultural diversity doesn't lend itself to a one-size-fits-all solution, and some schools have more advanced safety measures in place than others.

Task force member Carol Sente, a Democratic state representative from Vernon Hills, said teachers, parents and administrators in her district told her not to require costly safeguards "and also, don't come up with something so prescriptive that we have to throw out the things we're doing that reach the same goal."

The report does include two proposals that would require approval by the General Assembly. First, it says that of six annually required emergency-preparation drills, at least one should be a surprise to teachers and students. Second, it endorses retaining the committee for an additional year to consider new technology and situations.

"We realized this is not an easy thing to pin down," said member and Sen. Neil Anderson, a Rock Island Republican who sponsored the task force legislation. "As a dad myself and a fireman, I want nothing more than for schools to be the safest place out there, next to our own homes."

Ben Schwarm, lobbyist for the Illinois School Management Alliance, said state law already requires many protective measures — including constant consultation with local authorities.

"School administrators and staff are getting more and more training, but they're never going to be the experts that the local responders are," Schwarm said,




Contact Political Writer John O'Connor at . His work can be found at