A couple dozen Chicago police officers, paramedics and other emergency personnel filed into Julian High School on Thursday, with a mobile police command center parked outside and officials donning neon vests visible through the lobby windows.
The team was participating in an active shooter drill, the first at Chicago Public Schools since 2018, in preparation for the new school year and in the wake of mass shootings around the country — particularly the Uvalde, Texas, massacre that left a couple dozen children and educators dead.
CPS officials said the drill would help fine-tune their emergency plans and show families and staff that they’re ready for the worst. They also announced an $8 million investment in security technology — cameras, alarm systems, metal detectors and more — plus an expanded program to monitor and report social media threats of violence.
But district leaders also said the CPS parents they’ve consulted don’t have school shootings as top of mind as much as violence outside of schools.
“Universally, people feel safe in the schools,” said Jadine Chou, the district’s safety and security chief. “People tell us schools still are their sanctuary.
“The challenge we face is how do we make sure they also feel safe out in the community.”
CPS CEO Pedro Martinez this week called on the city to help support students through trauma and community gun violence. He said the district is building its capacity to identify kids who need support, but there’s often nowhere to refer them for that help. And creative ideas are needed between city agencies and community groups to keep kids safe.
Since major protests in the summer of 2020 targeted the disproportionate policing and discipline of Black and Latino students — and the presence of police officers in schools — CPS has shifted to a so-called “holistic” approach to school safety. Students’ mental and emotional safety are as important as physical safety, and addressing problems at their core rather than papering over them is seen as a more caring approach.
That means supporting kids who have experienced trauma, whether from violence, poverty, bullying, family loss or something else. In the case of social media monitoring, Chou said the goal isn’t “Big Brother” surveillance, of which the district has been accused in the past. If a concerning post is made, the idea is to figure out the reason behind that child’s feelings.
“Our approach is, we want to get to the root of why you did that, and in some cases it may be as a result of someone bullying somebody,” Chou said. “So just applying a criminal charge doesn’t get to the root of that.
“This ties together with our approach to discipline. Wouldn’t we rather have…