School Safety Response Task Force meets

By WEEK Producer

February 8, 2013 Updated Feb 8, 2013 at 11:08 PM CDT

PEORIA COUNTY, Ill. -- Trying to be proactive rather than reactive, over 30 area school administrators gathered in a different kind of classroom Friday at the Peoria County jail complex.

It was a meeting of the School Safety Response Task Force, hosted by the Peoria County Sheriff's Office, Peoria Police, the Peoria Mayor's Office and the Peoria County Regional Office of Education.

Local law enforcement officials presented educators with a coordinated checklist of instructions on protocols for dealing with any potential threats at their schools.

"The program is not new," explained Peoria County Sheriff Mike McCoy. "We've done it on an individual basis by talking to each superintendent individually and going to each school. Today what we're doing is we're talking to them as a whole."

And in a format where they could share their ideas and highlight the steps they've taken in their own schools.

"Maybe what we can do is take some of the information we get and improve upon some of the things that we're doing," said Dennis McNamara, superintendent of Brimfield Community Unit 309.

During the meeting, law enforcement officials went over crisis management and what teachers and administrators can do initially to best protect students until help arrives.

Still, there are no guarantees.

"We can't prepare for every scenario," said IVC School District 321 Superintendent Nick Polyak. "We'll do everything in our power. We'll do everything that's reasonable that we can do. But you can't plan for every scenario that might happen."

Some local law enforcement agencies already have what are known as inter-agency agreements with many school districts. Those allow the schools to share information about any student whose behavior may be thought to pose a potential threat.

The Peoria County Regional Superintendent of Schools says mental health is also an area that needs to be focused on.

"Social and emotional engagement in the classroom will do more to stop violence than anything," said Dr. Gerald Brookhart.