Chicago IL Feb 2 2017 A security firm's recent evaluation of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 schools revealed visitors were allowed to enter buildings without permission, walk around unattended and even take photographs, the board of education was told recently.
In his Jan. 23 report to the board, Paul Timm of RETA Security, a Lemont-based school security consulting firm hired by District 64, outlined several security breaches that occurred when undercover RETA employees visited District 64 schools and attempted to gain access.
Timm said the breaches occurred at the six schools that do not have locked entry vestibules.
In his report, Timm referenced incidents where undercover security team members were buzzed into schools, but did not report to the main offices, giving them full access to the school building. He described how two of the team members followed behind a visitor who was being buzzed into a school through the main entrance, allowing them to enter the building without stating their purpose for being there or checking in at the main office. Timm described how both walked through the school without question.
"No one addressed those two individuals, a male and a female, the entire time they were in the building, which was probably 10 minutes, taking photos of boiler rooms, auditoriums, cafeterias," Timm told the school board. "In four instances, the female RETA security person did hit the intercom button from the outside and was asked to state a purpose for being there. She stated she was there to visit a former teacher and was granted permission to come into the building. She did not report to the office in any of those cases."
The male RETA security employee was able to follow the woman inside in these instances, Timm said.
In only one case was an announcement made over the school intercom for the woman to report to the main office, he said. School staff, added District 64 Chief School Business Official Luann Kolstad, did not realize the male visitor was still in the building.
In a separate incident, the female visitor was not asked the reason for her visit when she was buzzed into the school building, Timm said. In this case, too, the man followed her inside, he said.
Timm reported that there was only one time that an undercover security team member was allowed to enter the school through an exterior side door. He said the door was opened by a teacher's aide with "no questions asked."
RETA Security's visitors did not get beyond the main offices at Washington School or Emerson Middle School, Timm said. A locked vestibule and other security enhancements were added to Washington School last year and Emerson has what Superintendent Laurie Heinz described as a "semi-secure vestibule" close to the main office.
The school district paid $1,200 for the security testing, spokeswoman Bernadette Tramm said.
School Board President Anthony Borrelli questioned if the security breaches were due to "training issues" in the schools.
"We know that, based on your results, having the vestibule provides a greater level of security, but it also has to flow with the training of the staff to ensure we get maximum capabilities out of this," Borrelli said.
Heinz has recommended the district pursue the construction of secured vestibules and, in most cases, the relocation of main offices, at all schools. Heinz has stated that the new vestibules and reconfigured offices will enhance safety and keep out people who are not supposed to be in the building, like noncustodial parents or someone with a restraining order.
Most of the schools have main offices that are located around the corner or down a hallway from the main entrance.
As cost estimates for the projects kept increasing last year, the board of education voted to add a secure vestibule to only Washington School. The cost of that project, including relocating and remodeling the main office and health office, cost $839,000, Kolstad said in August.
"That vestibule illustrates our ability to authorize folks to come in or deny them access," Heinz said. "None of our other buildings do that."
Heinz acknowledged that schools have "greeters" in place to welcome visitors once they are buzzed in, but she said their job is not to act as security personnel.
"They are here to greet, not to be another layer of security for the schools," Heinz said.
Board member Scott Zimmerman suggested more secret tests of the schools' security take place and that school employees be reprimanded if they violate policies for letting visitors into the building or failing to properly use the district's background check system. Timm's report indicated that main office personnel at Washington and Emerson allowed the RETA Security visitors to enter the health office without checking their identity through the district's Raptor software system.
"We need to actually say, 'This is part of your job requirement and when you don't comply, there's a consequence, and when you don't comply twice, there's the door,' " Zimmerman said. "I think we've got to be that serious, or otherwise we're really just providing expensive lip service to a problem."