A Look At Safety At Belleville West High School And Other Local Schools


High school is already a place full of uncertainty. Who are your true friends? What path will you take upon graduation? And, how many hours of sleep will you be able to acquire before your next busy day?

School safety should not be one of them.

As SWIC Weekly looks further into its investigation into school safety and mass shootings on college campuses, perhaps it is time to pay attention to the step before college — i.e., high school — and see what tactics are used to approach this epidemic in local high schools. 

Within the historical city of Belleville stand six school districts. These six districts include 14 public elementary schools, four junior high schools and middle schools, four high schools (including one Catholic and one private high school), and several Catholic grade schools and private schools. The abundance of schools should symbolize a picture of growth, prosperity, and stability, but to those heinous individuals wanting to inflict harm on a large scale, these structures of education could be seen as targets. So, do high schoolers feel safe in their own school?

“I feel pretty safe at West. We have good resource officers that do a great job of securing the campus. The procedures are good and allow the students to make decisions that insure their safety,” said  Justin Gergor, a senior at Belleville West.

The fact that a school shooting is possible is an unsettling thought. What happens if it strikes in this area? 

“Just the idea that a school shooting can happen at any time or anywhere is so scary, but at West we have great security and we have much more security than we did when I was a freshman here, and I think that is because of all the outside factors that have occurred,” said Tori Oleham, a senior at Belleville West.

“I never thought of it until you just asked me. Honestly, I really don’t feel safe. It’s just too many kids and I have seen too many people inside of our school that aren’t students. Because of that I just do not feel that safe,” said Abby Mackin, a freshman at Belleville West.

Teachers are assigned the duty of knowing and understanding what to do if a situation where the school and students inside were in danger.

“The procedures that have been taught to us are there to let the teachers get the students to a safe place if anything bad did happen,” said Mrs. Molly Hepp, a teacher at Belleville West. “The students are the number one priority in the school no matter what. The school district has taken extra precautions with security, given awareness training to teachers and we also have periodic drills for the entire school just to force us to consider what we would do in a situation like that. We prepare for every scenario.”

Since SWIC Weekly interviewed students at Belleville West, an incident occurred at the school Monday, Feb. 11. The Belleville News-Democrat reported that classes were canceled for the day (Feb. 11) after authorities received a report that a Belleville West High School student may have had a loaded gun on campus, according to police.

“It was reported to school personnel that a student may be in possession of a weapon,” Principal Rich Mertens said in a message sent to students and parents.

As reported in the News-Democrat, an initial investigation by police and school authorities revealed that a student said he brought the gun to school and left it in his book bag in his gym locker while he was in class, Belleville police wrote in a press release. The newspaper reported that the student returned to find “book bag had been searched by an unknown subject” and the gun was missing. (For the full story, go to https://www.bnd.com/news/local/article226094030.html.)

Since Feb. 11, the News-Democrat reported that two Belleville West students have been charged in connection with the loaded gun brought to the school. (For full report, go to https://www.bnd.com/news/local/crime/article226302800.html.)

Belleville West’s head security was unable to comment, but SWIC Weekly was able to receive comments from a head security guard at the Washington University campus in St. Louis, MO. He noted what Washington University proceeds to do should there be reports of a shooter. 

“First we find out about the shooter and where they are and if we hear anything,” said officer Darron Hill. “We’re always prepared for the worse, because we always have everything on us like our bulletproof vests and weaponry. Then we send out an alert to all of the students, teachers, and classes that are in session.

“Finally, after that, we contact the city police and try to take down the shooter with force or anything that is needed for that. With all of that engaged, we do test the system out during the summer and all officers on campus are tactically trained for huge events like a shooting on a campus.”  

  As schools continue to build up defenses against these mass shootings, one thing needs to come into mind: where are these shooters coming from? As a community, we need to find ways to decrease the chance of one of these horrible incidents happening in this community, including at Southwestern Illinois College (SWIC). 

NEXT WEEK: The fourth and final installment of this four-part series “Guns and SWIC”: SWIC Weekly interviews Chief Robert Luttrell, Director of Public Safety at SWIC.

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