Safety in the Upper School

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Robert Igbokwe

Located within the intersection of Lincoln Park and the Gold Coast—which, according to Niche.com, are two of Chicago’s safest neighborhoods —lies the Latin School, which is thought to be one of the safest schools in the city. The school has security guards on campus from 6:20 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. throughout the school week and the administration works vigilantly to make sure all students feel safe at the school. With that said, some students have expressed concerns over certain aspects of Latin’s safety, specifically the doors in the Upper School.

Observant eyes might notice that many of the doors in the upper school open outward and can only be locked and unlocked from the outside. During lockdown drills, teachers have to leave the classroom to lock their doors. Anyone with access to keys could open the doors to a from the outside. There are also windows attached to several doors in the upper school which could potentially allow an intruder to see that a classroom is not empty, even during a lockdown.

Some students feel these circumstances would leave them in a vulnerable position if an armed intruder were to enter the school. Mahee Gandhi, a student at Latin for the past four years, said, “I feel like safety at Latin is pretty good compared to some schools where they don’t even have a badging in and out system. I know a lot of my friends who don’t have that kind of security at their schools and I feel very lucky. However, knowing that we can’t lock doors from inside classrooms is a scary thought especially in the event that a crisis occurs. Sometimes, I’m not sure if Latin is really prepared for a real crisis.”

Elena Eisaman, a concerned sophomore, agreed, saying, “Latin’s most recent lock-down drill ended with a lot of kids wandering around the school when they should have been hiding in locked classrooms. That’s very disturbing. Kids at Latin simply aren’t mentally ready for a real emergency and I don’t know if Latin’s security always is. Don’t get me wrong, security here is very good. But I’d feel safer if I knew that the school had a functional lockdown plan. The door situation only makes me think that we don’t!”

However, many students don’t know why exactly the doors are the way they are. The Middle School’s doors all have automatic locks and even badge in systems rather than keys. “The Middle School building was built in 2007, while the Upper School building was built in 1969. Architectural design and significant code changes over the years have impacted our design process,” said Mr. Guzman, the Director of Operations at Latin.

The school has already addressed many of the safety concerns that can come with the design of the Upper School, and some aspects of the doors at Latin that concern students the most are actually in place for other safety reasons.  Guzman explained, “The doors actually swing out due to fire codes and side windows and the locking mechanisms that do not allow for doors to be locked without a key from the inside are ways for institutions like ours to mitigate other risks. We strongly encourage teachers to always keep doors in the locked position. In the event we need to shelter in place, there should be no need to use a key to lock the door if its already in the locked position. Teachers are also expected to have their ID cards and keys on their person at all times. In a shelter in place of an event, room occupants should barricade the door with any items available to them. ”

The administration does, however,  recognize areas in which the school’s security could improve. Guzman said, “Every year we retrofit doors to electronic locks to increase security and better manage access control. This past summer we upgraded 17 locks and doors as part of the Learning Commons project. We will continue the work this summer. Our end goal is to have electronic locks on every door in the Upper School.”

Mr. Guzman wanted to assure students and parents that safety is of paramount importance at the school. “This year, the school embarked in a yearlong risk assessment review that involved professionals from every field, including security and safety. This work will continue this summer and into next year. The board of trustees has given a number of tasks related to risk management to senior leadership. One of the most important ones is identifying areas of concern and providing recommendations for crisis plan review and implementation, crisis communications, and training,” he said. “Students, parents, faculty, staff, and visitors can all rest assured that their safety is of the utmost importance to the school.

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