Mendota H.S. discusses new school safety program

The idea is to be proactive, not punitive

Bonnie Morris
Posted 2/28/20

MENDOTA – A new school safety program called MHS SAFE Team was approved by the District 280 Board of Education at their Feb. 18 meeting.

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Mendota H.S. discusses new school safety program

The idea is to be proactive, not punitive


MENDOTA – A new school safety program called MHS SAFE Team was approved by the District 280 Board of Education at their Feb. 18 meeting.

Superintendent Jeff Prusator said the state has mandated that schools have a Threat Behavior Assessment Team in place and introduced three members of the MHS team, Heath Raley, Assistant Principal Joe Masini and Officer Chad Hochstatter. All three attended an all-day training at IVCC. “Officer Hochstatter and Mr. Masini also went to an administrator’s academy in Springfield for additional information and Mr. Raley has really taken the lead on this and done a nice job,” Prusator said.

Raley created a presentation for the board, which discussed five main things MHS will do through this program.


A 2019 Illinois law requires school districts to establish policies and procedures for the prevention of violence on school grounds, including the assessment of and intervention with individuals whose behavior poses a threat to the safety of the school community. Threat Assessment is a violence prevention strategy that involves identifying student threats to commit a violent act, determining the validity of the threat, and developing an intervention plan. Raley said the whole idea is to not be punitive but to be proactive. “We’re not here to discipline, we’re here to stop anything before it gets to that point,” he said.


The two main goals are to keep all MHS staff, teachers, students, and visitors safe while inside the facilities and to help potential offenders overcome the sources of anger, hopelessness, or despair.

Raley said there is no longer one set idea of who might be a school shooter or someone who brings violence to school. “It has changed and evolved so much since Columbine,” he said. “We have to keep our eyes on everyone instead of just focusing on the loner student or the one who started off doing well and now their grades are slipping.”


The threat assessment process mainly focuses on four factors.

  1. Identifying the person whose behavior is threatening, aberrant, or concerning. That can be done by teachers, community members, staff and personnel in the building, or other students who notice something. Anyone can make a report to the team, which will start the investigation.
  2. Gathering relevant information (through lawful and ethical means) and investigating to determine if the threat needs attention.
  3. Assess the person and the situation.
  4. Manage the person and situation to prevent violence and mitigate risk of harm.

Raley explained that once the team identifies what category a student falls under, there is a set of plans to follow to make sure those students receive the help they need.

Who is on the Threat Assessment Team?

The threat assessment team includes the school principal, assistant principal, dean of students, school social worker, SRO, special education director, and a teacher.

What about FERPA?

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) should not be an impediment to an effective threat assessment, nor to case management. FERPA protects students’ educational records only, rather than observations and direct communications. Raley said none of the information goes into the student’s educational record. It is only kept in-house.

Once a person of concern is identified, the team conducts an initial screening to determine if the threat is imminent. If it is, such as bringing a weapon to school, they contact law enforcement. If it is not imminent, they determine what the concerns are and if present, do a full inquiry and make an assessment. If there are no concerns, they close and document the case.

Priority Levels for Threat Cases

Priority 1 (Extreme Risk) - The person/situation appears to pose a clear and immediate threat of serious violence toward self or others and requires containment. The Team immediately notifies law enforcement and takes actions to protect identified target(s).

Priority 2 (High Risk) - The person/situation appears to pose a threat of self-harm or physical violence, usually to an identifiable target, but currently lacks immediacy or a specific plan. This requires the Team to develop and implement a management plan.

Priority 3 (Moderate Risk) - The person/situation does not appear to pose a threat of violence or self-harm at this time but does exhibit behaviors that are likely to be disruptive to the community. This case warrants some intervention, referral, and monitoring.

Priority 4 (Low Risk) - The person/situation does not appear to pose a threat of violence or self-harm at this time. This case may warrant some intervention, referral, and monitoring to minimize risk for escalation in threat.

Priority 5 (No ldentified Risk) - The person/situation does not appear to pose a threat of violence or self-harm at this time. The Team can close the case without a management plan.

Masini said they have compiled a list of students and none are considered high risk. “But we have some who without this process, we might not have gotten the ball rolling on,” he noted. “This is going to be a good thing. We’re going to meet as needed, try for once a month or more often if necessary.”

Prusator said the team must have an odd number of members because they vote on the priority level of each student that is discussed. “The purpose is for us to monitor kids whose minor issues could turn into big issues so we can intervene before that happens,” he said. “The big ones, a gun at school, that’s turned over to Chad right away. We’re trying to be proactive and help kids the best way we can.”

Parents would be notified of the situation if a student is at a higher risk level, but Hochstatter noted that this is not designed to be a punishment unless illegal activity is discovered. “A kid might have some issues that we can help him get on the right path,” he said. “But if he’s dealing drugs in school, that would be a punitive issue right away. And we probably already have a fair amount of parent involvement for some of these kids anyway.”

Prustator said the team has an in-house e-mail group and that address will be posted on the school’s website so parents and community members know where they can send an e-mail and the names of team members who can be contacted. “We’ll take a referral from anybody in the community, anyone who has a concern about a student,” he emphasized.


Principal Denise Aughenbaugh was unable to attend the meeting but submitted a written report.

Upcoming SAT Prep Course

Juniors are strongly encouraged to take the evening SAT Prep Class at Mendota High School on the following Wednesdays: March 11, 18 and 25, and April 1. The class is offered to improve test-taking skills prior to the college admission test. Aughenbaugh thanked Mr. Artman, Mr. Straughn, Mr. Wohrley, and Mrs. Campbell for instructing and supervising this test prep opportunity.

National Honor Society & Spanish Honor Society

National Honor Society inductions were held on Feb. 3 with 21 new members: Seniors-Kevin Lewis, Esmeralda Perez, Alison Schlesinger and Josh Wiley; Juniors-Daisy Arteaga, Keina Arteaga, Piper Artman, Amanda Barrett, Amellia Bromenschenkel, Bonnie Hall, Leilani Landeros, Grace Leiftreit, Lily Linden, Twila Martinson, Ella Massey, Eve McDowell, Madi Mikolasek, Jenna O’Donnell, Emilio Raya, Rosy Rocha and Harvey Vela.

Students were selected based on character, leadership, service, and scholarship (minimum 3.4 cumulative GPA) by faculty members and a selection committee. Aughenbaugh thanked Matt Gehm, NHS sponsor, for his hard work and dedication to the National Honor Society.

The Spanish Honor Society also held inductions on Feb. 3 under the supervision of Mrs. Adrianne Espinoza-Zamora. Spanish Honor Society students inducted included Daisy Arteaga, Keina Arteaga, Amanda Barrett, Sabrina Belmonte, Amellia Bromenschenkel, Leilani Landeros, Samuel Lawrence, Grace Leifheit, Twila Martinson, Ella Massey, Madi Mikolasek, Madison Pappas, Javier Perez, Natalie Orozco, Rosevelia Rocha and Ramiro Salinas.

Students selected for Spanish Honor Society earn good grades in their foreign language classes.

Summer Bridges Update

The summer Bridges program has been offered to incoming freshmen for two years. MHS has 28 students who have received Bridges support. Among current freshmen, five of 19 failed one or more classes first semester I (74 percent semester pass rate). Among current sophomores, six of nine failed one or more classes for a 33 percent three-semester pass rate. The high school is now gathering freshmen registrations and recommendations to review the need for a third year.

Informational Items

* Parent/Family Bilingual Parent Advisory Committee Night - Monday, March 16 at 6 p.m. in the media center. Ferney Ramirez Hernandez will present the second of two nights on positive parenting. All Spanish speaking parents and community members are invited.


  • The board approved an agreement with the City of Mendota to continue with the School Resource Officer program. The high school’s portion of the cost for 36 weeks will be $49,656.

Prusator said the School Resource Officer program was beneficial for the high school and the police department and actually worked better than anticipated.

  • The 2020-2021 school calendar presented last month was approved. The Parent Teacher conferences for both districts will be held the same week, Tuesday and Thursday evening at MHS, and Monday and Wednesday at the elementary schools. All vacations, breaks and early dismissals are the same as the elementary district.


Following closed session, the board rehired Joe Masini-assistant principal, Steve Hanson-freshmen dean/AD, and Scott Siri-technology director. They hired Jon Steban as choir teacher and approved raises for non-certified staff for the next three years.

Also approved/hired were GSA sponsor Melissa Sallee, junior class sponsor Lexi Wamhoff, CTE division chair Heath Raley, and Scholastic Bowl assistant sponsor Alisa Stewart.

Resignations were accepted from Cody Zinke, paraprofessional and Zonnie Eiten as concession supervisor.

Coaches who were approved include: Head Girls Volleyball-Nicci Gibson; Girls Soccer-varsity Nick Myers and assistant Justin Jacobsen; Boys’ Track-varsity Keegan Hill and assistant Steve Villegas; Girls’ Track-head Heath Raley and assistant Janet Nagel; Boys’ Tennis-head Shawn LeRette and assistant Tom Corrigan; Baseball-head Aaron Sester, sophomore Brian Blumhorst, freshman Rob Nunn (if numbers warrant), assistant Kenny Shrimplin (LaMoille Coach) and volunteer Chance Blumhorst; Softball-head Joel Perez, JV Brock Zinke, and volunteers Larry Klema and John McDowell.

The next regular board of education meeting will be held at the high school on Monday, March 16 at 6 p.m.