Around this time of year, as June drifts into July, kids across the country engage in the annual student tradition of willful ignorance — persuading themselves that, all evidence to the contrary, the dreaded return to school will never come.
This July, however, at least one Highland Park sophomore has already selected his new backpack, according to his mother, Jenny Harjung.
“This is the bulletproof backpack my son picked out,” she said while holding a photo of the backpack in front of the Township District 113 School Board on July 11, “because he thinks that nothing is going to be done.”
Friction between the School Board and local advocacy group Parents for Securing our Schools, of which Harjung is a part, returned to the public eye on Tuesday, July 11, when the latter again accused the district of “unacceptable inaction” to improve student safety after a firearm at Highland Park High School forced a schoolwide lockdown on April 4.
The group, which also goes by Parents SOS, was formed by concerned parents in the weeks following the incident and has been lobbying District 113 to adopt additional student safety measures — specifically metal detectors and more armed security — before the new school year.
Representatives of Parents SOS have attended and spoken at every board meeting since the April lockdown, said founding members Suzanne Wahl and Enrique Perez.
Facing Parents SOS’ continued advocacy, the district has not taken action. Harjung accused the board during its July 11 meeting of ignoring the group’s concerns.
“I know you guys are so sick and tired of seeing me here,” she said. “I promise you, I’m more sick and tired of coming here, to every single meeting.”
Much to the group’s chagrin, no security policies were scheduled for consideration on the board’s July 11 open-session agenda, which instead featured an agreement on a scholarship funds transfer agreement, information on a college and career readiness program, and a proposal to sell the naming rights to seats in the newly renovated Deerfield High School auditorium.
While the board did not discuss issues of student safety in open session, District 113 Superintendent Bruce Law confirmed that school security was a topic of conversation during Tuesday’s closed session.
The issue was also discussed during closed session at the board’s meeting on May 30, said Board President Dan Struck at that meeting.
Struck said that discussing the specifics of school security in open session “would make little sense,” and Law said the district is still considering adding new safety measures prior to the school year.
“We have created multiple layers of mitigation to confront all the risks we are facing,” Law said, “and continue to evaluate additional mitigations we can put into place before the start of school.”
While the district has made no decisions, it has collected data.
A May survey of Highland Park and Deerfield families, organized by the District 113 board and administered by a third party, found that 77 percent of respondents (1,286 total) were in favor of adding weapons detection systems to school entrances, a statistic announced during the district’s May 30 meeting.
More than a month after the survey results, and about a month from the start of school, the school board has yet to consider an official proposal to add said systems.
While Law acknowledged that schools are facing “a constellation of risks stemming from the threat of gun violence,” he cautioned against hasty policymaking when it comes to security.
“We are committed to getting it right, not doing it fast,” Law explained; however, he did advise that “more will be coming before the start of school.”
If the board is hoping to make good on their promised changes before students head back to school, Wahl said, they’re running out of time.
“I looked at my calendar before coming here,” Wahl told the board July 11. “School starts in 35 days. We no longer have the luxury of time. You’ve squandered it.”
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