Safe and Not So Sound: New Gathering Policy Secures and Confuses

Hedy Gutfreund


A giggle ran through the theater the first day that the new gathering policy of locking the doors was announced. As the deans presented the policy, teachers continued to let students into the theater, much to the deans’ chagrin. The rest of the audience sat in disbelief, but, above anything else, I think we felt confusion. So why does locking people out of gathering keep us all safer?

To find out, I sat down with Mr. Joan Guzman, Assistant Director for Facilities and Operations. He explained to me that this policy was not just someone’s whim or an attempt to get us more unexcused absences (especially with the new absence policy). In reality, Latin goes through a security assessment every two years with a security consultant, who tells the school “things that they feel could be safer around the school for the community as a whole,” says Mr. Guzman. He also meets with the Chicago Police Department once a week, meetings that have “a lot to do with student safety.” In both those forums, the issue of large gatherings continually arose.

“When we have large gathering spaces, those are usually not secure, people are allowed to come in and out as they please, and CPD and our security consultant felt we needed to work on this,” explains Mr. Guzman. So at the end of April last year, Mr. Guzman and members of his staff met with CPD to solve the problem. Their solution: allow a small grace period to get into the theater and then secure the doors, so “folks would be secure in the theater.”

This concern for safety about the theater stems also from the design of the Upper School itself. Unlike the Lower and Middle School lobbies, Mr. Guzman admits that “the Upper School lobby is not the most secure lobby. It’s something we’re hoping in the near future to be able to remodel.” For now, however, the policy of locking the theater doors is one step closer to solving safety problems.

At the same time, it has obviously created some administration problems. “I was meeting with Ms. Taylor, it went over a couple minutes, and I ended up getting locked out of gathering and having some free time. I studied for a quiz,” says a senior who is particularly confused about college and needed those few extra minutes with her counselor. As another senior points out, science classes now often hurry to finish up labs so that they don’t get locked out of gathering. In one student’s words, “If I’d had my AP Chemistry class this year, we wouldn’t have made it to a single gathering.” Faculty themselves have been locked out of gatherings, too.

To this, Mr. Guzman responds, “We made a recommendation for how to keep the folks in the theater safe, and how the administration decides to enforce that is up to them. We ask that you guys are a bit patient as they try to navigate that and figure out what the best way is.” Though he thinks that a way to ameliorate the problem would be a longer grace period, he ultimately concludes, “At the end of the day, Mr. Graf and the deans are trying to work out the best process.”