School officials, police talk safety

As threats mount, parents urged to be aware

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By Bob Skolnik

Contributing Reporter

Last week staff from a number of local school districts attended a threat assessment conference in Rosemont that focused on school safety. At the conference, a report prepared by the United States Secret Service and the National Threat Assessment Center was presented and discussed. 

That same evening Riverside-Brookfield High School hosted a community safety forum that was attended by approximately 25 parents. In addition to RBHS staff, the forum also included Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel, Brookfield Police Chief Edward Petrak and Lt. Terry Schreiber and North Riverside Commander David Kopka.

The forum and conference were timely. The very next day, a student at a Santa Clarita, California, high school shot and killed two fellow students and himself on his 16th birthday. 

Two local schools have experienced recent incidents that concerned school officials. On Nov. 12, the day before the conference and forum, a veiled threat was discovered written in a girls bathroom at L.J. Hauser Junior High School in Riverside. 

On Nov. 5, agents from the FBI visited the home of a student at George Washington Middle School who had posted an online comment about bringing guns the school. The student who posted the threat on Snapchat has been suspended and has not been in school since Stickney police officers and the FBI visited his home. 

The student is the subject of a disciplinary hearing that was scheduled to take place during a special meeting of the Lyons School District 103 Board of Education on Nov. 19.

School administrators say they take all threats seriously. Social media sites like Snapchat and Instagram have become places where threats of all kinds are often made.

"I feel like every two to four weeks we're sending home a message about a threat on social media," said RBHS District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis at the community safety forum on Nov. 13. "It's becoming too frequent."

According to the threat assessment study, which examined 41 incidents of targeted school violence in the United States from 2008 to 2017, there is no one profile of a school shooter. 

The study concluded that school shooters usually had multiple motives, the most common of which was a grievance with classmates. The study said school shooters were also motivated to kill by grievances with school staff, failed romantic relationships and other personal issues. Other motives, the study said, included a desire to kill, a desire to commit suicide and a desire for fame. 

According to the study, nearly all the attackers had been bullied at school at some point. The study also concluded that nearly every attacker experienced negative factors in their home life. Seventy-one percent of attackers were the children of divorced parents, 69 percent came from families that had financial difficulties and 46 percent came from families where substance abuse was a problem, according to a slide presented by RBHS Assistant Principal for Student Affairs Dave Mannon at the forum. 

Mannon and RBHS School Safety Liaison Lane Niemann attended the Rosemont conference as did two assistant principals from Lyons Township High School and two administrators from Riverside Elementary School District 96. 

Most attackers had a history of disciplinary records and had prior contact with law enforcement. The study concluded that all attackers had exhibited concerning behaviors and most had said or done things that concerned fellow students or those around them, including revealing their desire to attack. 

Students and parents can do much to prevent attacks by alerting school official or local police of concerning behaviors.

"If you see something, say something," Mannon said.

Most school shooters obtained the guns used in attacks from their homes. And, Mannon said, social media exacerbates all sorts of issues and often creates conflict.

"The amount of hours that we spend investigating Snapchat issues in this building is mind boggling," Mannon said.

Mannon suggested that parents be aware of their children's behavior and to talk with them as much as possible.

"Inspect your child's room from time to time," Mannon said.

Schools are also taking steps to make their buildings more secure.

In 2018, a thin film that creates makes glass shatterproof was applied to exterior and classroom door windows at RBHS to make it more difficult for a shooter to shoot his way into the school or a classroom.

"We are doing everything that we can to keep our students safe," Skinkis said.

At RBHS, students are taught the ALICE protocol for responding the attackers. ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. They are told to run if they can, but resist if they must.

In general, disciplinary issues have been declining at RBHS, Mannon said, noting that the biggest problem is students being late for class.

"We don't have any gang issues," Mannon said. We don't have those kinds of behaviors here."

Police representatives who attended the forum also answered questions from parents. Weitzel said the level of cooperation between his department and the Brookfield Police Department is at an all-time high, which makes for quick response time any time there is any kind of incident at RBHS.

RBHS officials were disappointed by the small turnout for the forum. But those parents who did attend seem to find forum useful.

"I'm thrilled that they made the effort to do this," said Pam Kosner, of Riverside.

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