HUME – Ever since the Feb. 14 shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 dead, the Shiloh Board of Education has wanted a school resource officer in the building.
It hasn’t been an easy venture for the rural school that is not in a community with a full-time police department. The isolated location and long response time to get police on site was a motivating factor in finding a way to obtain a resource officer.
An early idea of hiring a private security firm failed after the school attorney advised Illinois law only permits police officers on active duty to be armed on school property.
Talks between Shiloh Interim Superintendent Allen Hall, Edgar County Sheriff Jeff Wood and Edgar County Board Chairman Jeff Voigt have found a way to solve the problem.
“We have a go from Edgar County,” Hall said at the Oct. 22 board of education meeting.
The plan, as explained by Hall, has the sheriff’s department providing a school resource officer on a contracted service basis. The school will reimburse the county $44,000 for nine-months worth of salary. The county provides the squad car, uniforms and pays the retirement and other benefits associated with being a county employee.
“We will jointly interview candidates with Jeff Wood,” said Hall, adding the administration also has the right to request a replacement if it becomes apparent the selected officer isn’t working out.
As a certified law enforcement officer on active duty, the school resource officer will be armed with a handgun and Taser.
Hall said a big concern for the administration and Wood is the officer getting bored while on duty.
“I will check with other districts that have resource officers and see how they use them,” Hall said.
An important task of the resource officer is establishing a positive rapport with Shiloh’s students. As such, the officer will be there each morning to greet students and socialize with them in the lunchroom and playground. Depending on the officer’s background qualifications, a possibility exists to help with anti-drug lessons.
“What he won’t do is discipline,” said Hall.
The next step in the process is for the school attorney to draw up an intergovernmental agreement between the school district and the county. Edgar County State’s Attorney Mark Isaf will review the agreement and the two attorneys will work out any issues.
Hall anticipates between that process, advertising for candidates and hiring a person it will likely be January before the officer is on duty in Shiloh’s halls.
Principal Beth Harbaugh discussed security issues during her report. She recently attended a Homeland Security workshop at the Regional Office of Education. In addition to school administrators, police and fire officials also attended the event.
“Our plan is pretty good,” said Harbaugh. “There are some things we have to tweak.”
A recent evacuation drill emptied the school in 2½ minutes. Harbaugh said staff and students need to practice a variety of drills depicting different scenarios of full evacuation, partial evacuation and lockdowns in rooms.
She noted the partial evacuation is also important fire preparation in case flames are blocking the normal exit routes.
Another situation to practice is getting all students on a bus and taking them off campus to the Hume community center.
Board member April Morris asked if in such a case students who drive to school will be allowed to drive their own cars away.
Harbaugh said staff will try to prevent that.
“The goal is to get them on the bus for accountability,” said Harbaugh, adding that makes it easier for staff to determine all students are accounted for during an emergency.
Other board members encouraged Harbaugh to work on a way to keep students from using their private cars. They said multiple students trying to get away during a stressful emergency could lead to accidents blocking exits and delaying the evacuation.