Reading, Writing and State of the Art Security School Officials Contemplate Cameras, Key Cards to Combat Acts of Violence

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Byline: Mick Zawislak Daily Herald Staff Writer

Unless you attend school there or live in the neighborhood, you likely wouldn't happen upon Oak Grove Elementary School by accident.

At the end of a leafy, dead-end street in Green Oaks, the sprawling building serves 1,050 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Being out of the way guarantees nothing these days, however.

"We want to create some deterrents," Superintendent Larry Hewitt said.

Cameras inside and out and a key card swipe system that can check if a visitor is a sex offender or has an order of protection against them are among the possibilities Hewitt and a task force of school board members are considering. The measures could cost as much as $150,000.

Heightened interest in security is the norm for elementary districts these days. State law approved in August 2005 mandates three evacuation drills per year at public and private schools.

The exercises are meant to simulate shootings, bomb threats and suspicious persons, for example.

While all schools are required to review and update safety plans, where District 68 ranks among other elementary districts in terms of added security is hard to pinpoint.

"Some are still in the developmental stages," said Ed Bates, who is in charge of security-related matters for the Lake County Regional Office of Education.

"There are quite a few districts with the cameras. You don't see the card swipe as much - that's pretty unique," he said.

Oak Grove has not had any incidents, Hewitt said, but the district has to be prepared at a time when violent events at schools are making headlines.

The task force was formed in September to review security. The murder of a Colorado high school student that month followed Oct. 2 by the shooting of 10 students, five who died, at an Amish school in Pennsylvania intensified the effort.

In past years, the school, which is an election polling place, used volunteers to keep an eye on things. This year, an unarmed security guard was hired for that purpose.

"We are rewriting our safety and security manual. We're using the incident command system model that police and fire would use," Hewitt said. …