‘Fear has no place here’ – Chicago Tribune

Students at Elmwood Park High School stepped out of classrooms late Tuesday morning and demonstrated in front of the school building, critical of school administrators amid safety concerns after a student was charged with having a loaded gun at school.

“They dropped the ball,” Erick Codona said Tuesday about the Elmwood Park Community Unit School District 401 administration.

Cardona, who has a student enrolled at the high school in Elmwood Park, said he plans to attend the upcoming school board meeting to ask about safety training and protocols in place at the school. He said he works as a safety officer in another school district.

As students demonstrated Tuesday, they held up signs that called on the district to do more to keep them safe.

“We want safety. We demand safety. We deserve safety,” one sign read.

Tuesday’s student walkout, which lasted about 45 minutes, came a week after a student was reportedly seen with a loaded gun inside the school building. After a brief encounter with school officials, the 17-year-old — who is not identified because he is a juvenile — reportedly left the school building.

The teen was located by River Grove police and arrested, authorities told Pioneer Press Friday.

“In conducting this walk out, we are showing that school safety and protocols are of the utmost importance in keeping EPHS a safe and inviting environment,” according to a statement obtained by Pioneer Press from student organizer Damian Perez.

He said the statement was also sent to the school board and administration.

“Many students, staff, parents and community members are appalled by the lack of action that was taken when a fatal threat was imposed to each and every single person within the high school. Each and every student, teacher and faculty’s lives were threatened Monday, March 6, by a student with a weapon, and administration wouldn’t bother calling a lockdown. We are furious, saddened, scared and ashamed to be part of a school that does not take our lives and safety seriously.

“The bottom line is, you have all failed to protect the lives of your students and staff and for this reason, we no longer feel safe in our learning environment or community,” the statement read. “We want an apology, we deserve an apology, we DEMAND an apology.”

The statement went on to point out previous incidents where a hard lockdown order was issued, including when a person without a lanyard entered the school and the large police response when a bomb threat was made at the school. Yet after last Monday’s incident, they say there was no response from administration until days afterward.

More than a hundred students protest outside of Elmwood Park High School during a walkout on March 14, 2023, in Elmwood Park. Students walked out due to safety concerns following a recent incident where it was alleged a student brought a gun to school.
More than a hundred students protest outside of Elmwood Park High School during a walkout on March 14, 2023, in Elmwood Park. Students walked out due to safety concerns following a recent incident where it was alleged a student brought a gun to school.

According to students and angry posts on social media, school administrators did not lock the school down once officials learned of the boy reportedly having the gun. Also, notification was not immediately sent to parents or other district stakeholders, those critical of how district officials handled the situation have said.

Elwood Park Community Unit School District 401 Superintendent Leah Gauthier defended the school’s actions in statement to Pioneer Press via email:

“Our top priority in any crisis situation is to de-escalate the threat, protect the well-being of all students and staff, and prevent panic. School administrators acted quickly and made decisions in seconds based on their ongoing training and safety protocols. The deans confronted and stayed with the student in the building, and continued to watch when the student left the building until police were able to make an arrest. Law enforcement has affirmed that the actions by school staff effectively mitigated the threat.

“Because the situation was quickly resolved, we did not proactively address it with students during the school day. We acknowledge that this incident did impact students and that they should have been included in the distribution of District’s initial communication following the incident. We will address this in our crisis communication protocol moving forward.”

A walkout had been planned for last Friday butwas canceled after Gauthier said in a statement on the school website that there had been a threat to the school, moving officials to shift to remote learning for the day.

“We received a report of a potential threat during the EPHS student organized walk out that was planned for 10am this morning. Out of an abundance of caution we will move to an e-learning day today at EPHS,” Gauthier wrote in a message distributed to district families just before 7 a.m. Friday.

Later that day, the superintendent said in another statement that the threat had been found not credible by authorities.

Elwood Park High School is part of Elmwood Park Community Unit School District 401. The district has four schools, with nearly 2,800 students enrolled in grades pre-K to 12. The high school, at 8201 W. Fullerton Ave., Elmwood Park, has about 980 students.

Freelancer Elizabeth Owens-Schiele contributed.

Source : https://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/elmwood-park/ct-elm-students-walk-out-over-safety-elmwood-park-high-school-tl-0316-20230314-hyxzagvpnvdylpzikfbplix6ui-story.html#ed=rss_www.chicagotribune.com/arcio/rss/category/news/

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