In a security concern and code violation, some Chicago public schools do not have classroom doors that lock from inside

CHICAGO (CBS) — The school massacre that killed 19 children and two adults in Uvalde, Texas this week has forced school districts the country to reevaluate their security plans.

This includes Chicago Public Schools – and we have uncovered a potentially dangerous concern inside two CPS school buildings. Teachers are unable to lock their classrooms from the inside.

As CBS 2’s Sabrina Franza reported Friday, it is not just a concern – but also a code violation.

“I felt like – I don’t want to say I felt betrayed, but I felt like – what can I do?” said CPS parent Cornetta Hopkins.

Hopkins just found out that the doors on her kids’ classrooms in kindergarten and fifth grade at George W. Tilton Elementary School, 223 N. Keeler Ave., only lock from the outside.

Hopkins said her fifth grader told her about the situation in his classroom.

“He said, ‘It’s just the outside.’ I said, ‘So there’s no lock on the inside? He said, ‘No, we only lock the door on the outside.’”

We first heard about this when we heard a tip from a staff member at one Chicago public school. Then we started asking parents – is this happening at your child’s school?

Now, we’re learning that locks only exist on the outside of classroom doors in more than one public school.

It is a huge problem, and a violation of Illinois School Code. The code says doors need to be lockable without opening the door.

Photos from two schools – of which Tilton is one – show two schools with locks on one side – and not the other. A staff member would need to leave the classroom to lock the door from the outside in an emergency.

And under school code, unlocking the door needs to be possible from the occupied side of the room – without a key. In these classrooms, such is not possible.

“With a door lock on the outside, you’re looking at another impediment to secure your child,” said Sean Burke, president of the School Safety Advocacy Council. “During a real incident, that teacher is under stress.”

Burke creates school safety plans across the country.

“In recent history, we’ve only had one student killed behind a locked classroom door, and that was in the Parkland shooting – where the attacker was walking down the hallway, looked in through a window on the door, and fired into the window,” Burke said.

He calls a locked door the last line of defense – not to mention an easy fix.

“That gunman is thinking, ‘Do I spend a number of minutes shooting my way through it, and possibly not having victims on the other side?’” Burke said.

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We reached out to CPS, asking why teachers don’t have locks inside their classrooms. We reached out to CPS, asking why teachers don’t have locks inside their classrooms. CPS released this statement: “CPS is currently undergoing a Districtwide audit which includes a review of our classroom locks to confirm that our locks comply with the Illinois School Code.”

We found right now, they don’t.

“I am not comfortable sending my kids to school, but they have to get an education,” Hopkins said.

CPS said they will not make any fixes until that audit is finished this fall.

Late Friday, CPS parents received an email about security. Next school year, CPS plans to increase funding for security and technology and to hire additional counselors and social workers:

Dear CPS Colleagues, Families, and Supporters,

Today kicks off Memorial Day Weekend – a sign that there are just a few weeks left in the school year and that summer is on the way. We want everyone in our school communities to enjoy this time, but we know that most parents’ minds are focused on student safety. As the father of two CPS students, I share the same concerns as all of our families when it comes to the safety of our children — both in-school and outside of school. Our message to families this week contains important information about how to keep our children safe.

Staying Safe In and Out of School

I know that this week’s shocking and tragic events in Texas — and recent incidents of violence here in our neighborhoods in Chicago — have shaken all of us and made us more anxious about our children’s safety. Our teachers, counselors, and school leaders have been working to help our children share and process their feelings, and I am grateful to them for their care and compassion. I want all in our CPS community to know that we remain committed to providing all students with learning environments where they feel challenged, supported, and above all, safe. 

As CPS has worked over the years to develop safety measures to protect our school communities, we have learned that there is not one single program or approach that will solve every safety issue. It takes a comprehensive, holistic approach, and the efforts of many individuals to create a safe school community and a culture of support.

Our first strategy is to strengthen the prevention on the front end so that we have the appropriate social and emotional supports in place to address the unique needs of all of our students.  By developing these relationships with our young people, we are able to have trusted adults that children can go to if they are having challenges.

In addition, we want to make sure that all of the adults in the building understand the safety plans and protocols of their school.  This includes making sure that schools have completed their safety drills so that everyone is prepared in the event there is a serious incident.

Our Safe Passage program uses CPS Safe Passage staffers to steer our kids away from dangerous situations and help them get to-and-from school safely. This summer, we will be engaging these Safe Passage staffers to support CPS Summer Programs and Chicago Park District programming.

Furthermore, in next year’s school budgets, we are increasing funding to hire additional  counselors and social workers in our schools, and we are investing in social and emotional learning curriculum and programs to support our students.  For example, we will continue to support programs like Choose 2 Change — which provides participants with wraparound support and counseling to those students who may have been significantly impacted by trauma. And our proposed capital budget for next year will contain additional resources for security and technology to ensure school safety.

We also know that most of the time, concerning situations arise outside of school. The best approach is to always know who our kids are with and where they’re going, and to make sure they know how to get in touch with us when we are not together. Please encourage your children to spend time with their friends in small groups and to avoid large unsupervised gatherings where unfortunately, things can get out of hand and lead to dangerous situations.

Looking Ahead to Summer Break

Part of keeping kids safe outside of school is providing fun and engaging programs over the summer. We want to remind families that CPS — along with our partners across the city — are offering many activities for students, from enrichment, to athletics, to academic support. Our summer programs help connect students with their school communities and support them in developing skills that will allow them to enter the 2022-23 school year with greater confidence. Families can browse all CPS summer programs by visiting cps.edu/summerprograms. 

We also urge families to check out summer options through our partners at the Chicago Park District, the Chicago Public Library and the city’s My CHI. My Future site. In addition, the city’s One Summer Chicago program provides high school students with paid academic, enrichment, and workplace opportunities. It’s also a one-stop shop for students to jumpstart their careers. Students can get help writing a resume, browsing jobs, preparing for interviews, and more. High school students can apply to One Summer Chicago opportunities from now through June 10.

Staying Smart About COVID-19

Finally, we know that there will be plenty of gatherings this weekend, and I want our students, staff and families to have a good time. But we cannot forget that COVID-19 still poses a threat to our school communities, and that cases have been steadily rising for several weeks. Just today, Cook County and the City of Chicago moved to the “high-risk” category for community transmission. And while hospitalizations and deaths remain low, this is not the time to let our guard down. 

Please help us keep children safe, healthy, and in class these last few weeks of the school year by considering the following when you get together over Memorial Day:

  • The weather looks to be beautiful this weekend, so consider spending time together outside.
  • Avoid large indoor gatherings, and if you can’t, wear a mask.
  • Get children tested for COVID-19 if they are showing any symptoms of the virus.
  • If you have not done so already, get your family up-to-date on all COVID vaccines and boosters. Visit cps.edu/vaccinations to make an appointment.

And when we return to school after the long weekend, CPS is strongly encouraging staff and students to continue wearing masks in school to keep our communities safe. Furthermore, there will be several situations where students or staff will be required to wear masks:

  • When someone was exposed within the last 10 days, regardless of vaccination status (in or out of school). 
  • When someone tests positive for COVID-19, they are required to work or learn from home for five days and are required to mask for days 6-10 after symptom onset
  • If a cohort of students has experienced three or more cases in the last 14 days. 
  • If someone is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. 
  • If directed by the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH).

We know that these past couple of weeks have been extremely difficult for parents, families, and staff. I thank you all sincerely for your partnership and your work to help keep our students safe and provide them with nurturing, supportive environments where they can grow and thrive.

Sincerely,

Pedro Martinez

Chief Executive Officer

Chicago Public Schools

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