EDWARDSVILLE - Law enforcement officials, teachers, and more from across the state gathered at the Madison County Administration Building in Edwardsville to discuss school safety on Monday, June 5. This was the third semi-annual School Safety Summit led by Madison County Regional Superintendent Robert Werden.

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Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Haine stressed that “communication” with his office is key to ensuring school safety around Madison County, with his office reacting in a “swift” manner to any reports of danger.

“My main mission at the State’s Attorney’s Office is to be proactive,” Haine said. “We are very, very swift in how we handle any report of danger to our students at our schools, and that we maintain very, very easy and smooth lines of communication.”

After a brief introduction from Chief Deputy Marcos Pulido, Madison County Mental Health Board Executive Director Deborah Humphrey said the board is focused on “prevention, treatment, and support services” for local schools, and that they are looking to expand services with pilot programs in the future.

Other event speakers included U.S. Marshal David Davis, Illinois State Police Director Brenden Kelly, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ranly Killian, and FBI Special agents Nick Ponsano and Rick Box.

“There’s nothing more important these days than school safety, in my opinion,” Davis said. “We just want to let you guys know that we are always ready to assist should something happen here in Madison County. We always have our task force people on the street in Madison County on a daily basis.”

Davis added that he and other U.S. Marshals regularly participate in active shooter drills, and he believes “there’s nothing more important than being trained and being ready.”

Kelly took the stand next to discuss the role Illinois State police play in school safety.

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“We have something called a ‘Clear and Present Danger’ law … every law enforcement agency in this room uses this, reports to the Illinois State Police that this individual is a clear and present danger,” Kelly said. “Now we’ve made significant changes to that system in the past year, upgrades that the legislature has given us the tools to do as a result of the experience of Highland Park and other incidents of violence.

“Schools also have the ability, along with law enforcement, to report a clear and present danger. If someone is exhibiting behavior that’s homicidal, suicidal, making threats to themself or to others, we have a portal for school officials who by law are mandatory reporters - they are supposed to report that type of behavior.”

He added that the number of reports the Illinois State Police gets from schools regarding clear and present dangers has doubled within the last year, and that the State Police is also aware of problems like hoaxes or false alarms, such as the non-credible active shooter threat that was made at Granite City High School earlier this year and a similar incident at Collinsville High School on the same day.

“Another challenge, as was recently experienced in this county, has been the issues of hoaxes,” Kelly said. “We know that it's a very draining thing to experience for a local community, particularly law enforcement, for the school. You are not alone - this is a national phenomena, it’s happening in multiple jurisdictions around the state.

Kelly added that while the threats may not be credible, they are still too dangerous to ignore.

“These fake hoaxes, these calls are called into a school, it’s either a bomb threat or a threat of a shooting, and you can’t ignore it,” he said. “It’s tough, you can’t ignore it - you have to respond to it because if you don’t, something very terrible could happen.”

Both Kelly and Box confirmed that the hoax calls at Granite City and Collinsville High Schools had been traced and originated from overseas. Box said the caller was “from a country we can’t extradite” but that “we’re not too concerned about them making any more calls,” but did not provide much further detail about the case.

Killian took the stand and reiterated some of the previous comments before adding two other dangers to school safety, sexting (especially as it relates to blackmailing students) and drugs (especially fentanyl or drugs mixed with fentanyl). The summit closed with Werden thanking attendees for taking the time out of their days to “take this seriously, because it affects all of us.”

A full recording of the summit is available at the top of this story or on Riverbender.com/video.

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