HIGHLAND PARK – The City of Highland Park plans to participate in an event organized by a branch of the Women’s March called Youth EMPOWER. The organization is urging students, teachers, school administrators and parents to take part in a National School Walkout on March 14, the one-month anniversary of the Valentine’s Day school shooting massacre in Parkland, Florida.
Students at Highland Park High School and Deerfield High School will have the option to participate. Township School District 113 is working with the city and local law enforcement to ensure students’ safety, but the schools will remain open. “We are also supporting our students who are not participating by ensuring that meaningful learning will still occur during the scheduled walkout,” said Christine Gonzales, D-113 director of communications & instructional technology.
The walk-out will take place at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes on March 14. Each minute will represent one of the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The walkout is “to protest Congress’ inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods,” according to the EMPOWER website.
DailyNorthShore corresponded with Highland Park City Manager Ghida Neukirch on February 21 about the city’s plans to honor the victims and their families of the Parkland shoot and other shootings across the country.
DNS: What will Highland Park’s role be in the March 14 National Walkout?
Neukirch: The City of Highland Park and Township High School District 113 have been in communication with the event organizer so we can help ensure it is a safe, peaceful and meaningful event for all participants. We are planning to meet in the next week to discuss the event in detail and then information will be communicated publicly.
DNS: What security measures have been taken to make Highland Park students and parents feel more secure at Highland Park High School (HPHS), as well as the D-112 schools?
Neukirch: The city collaborates significantly with North Shore School District 112 and District 113 to ensure that our schools remain a safe and secure learning environment. A Police Department School Resource Officer is stationed at HPHS, and another police officer is assigned to serve District 112 schools. The Resource Officers proactively work with students, faculty and staff to help preserve order and promote safety on campus. Through the School Resource Officers, the city works closely with the schools to prevent violence by having a regular police presence in and around the schools, monitoring social media activity, collaborating with social service resources for violence and bullying prevention, and working alongside parents and students. We also coordinate and carry out on-site live simulations of various situations and have table-top emergency preparedness exercises.
DNS: Has the city been working with incoming Police Chief Louis E. Jogmen on this issue during his transition?
Neukirch: Yes, I have been in regular communication with Chief Jogmen. He shares the city’s priority of public safety and going above and beyond when it comes to the safety of our children. Although Chief Jogmen is scheduled to begin employment on Friday, February 23, we have been in regular communication and he has been notified about the proposed walk offering insight and feedback. He will be meeting with all school officials within the first two weeks of employment to discuss our collective approach to public safety.
DNS: Is there an anonymous hotline that students and parents can call if they suspect a student or someone else is a threat to any of the Highland Park schools?
Neukirch: The Police Department encourages anyone, including students and parents, with information regarding school violence, suspicious activity or bullying issues to immediately contact the Highland Park Police Department (HPPD) at 847-432-7730. Students may remain anonymous and do not need to identify themselves when providing information to the Police Department. Students and parents may reach out to school administrators if they ever suspect a fellow student or someone else may be a threat to school safety.
DNS: Will new drills be underway in classrooms, so students know the proper steps to take to protect themselves and each other?
Neukirch: The schools work with the city throughout the year to conduct safety and security drills with students and faculty, in addition to table top exercises for emergency responses in various events. The schools will continue to offer drills and work closely with students to ensure they feel secure. The city will continue to work closely with the school districts to ensure the best safety and security plan remains in place for the schools.
DNS: The most important thing is for students and parents to feel safe, and Highland Park has fought for strict gun laws. Please provide us with some final words to ease students and parents fears.
Neukirch: The City of Highland Park along with our sister governments place safety and security above all, as the well-being of our citizens is paramount. The city and school districts are actively engaged to ensure students and teachers come to school every day to learn and have fun without any fear of violence or bullying whatsoever. It takes a collaborative effort to maintain a safe environment. Residents, students, teachers, and parents are encouraged to report suspicious activity or possible threats to the HPPD, so that we can all work together to keep Highland Park a safe and secure community.