By John Fester
March 27, 2019
On March 26, many of you received this FOIA request from NBC 5:
This is a request under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. I am making this request of more than 350 public school districts in twelve Illinois counties in the greater Chicago area, including Community High School District 128, for a news story we are working on at NBC5 about school tornado preparedness.
Please provide me with documents showing which school buildings in your district each have a storm shelter that meets the minimum requirements of the ICC/NSSA Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters (ICC-500) [published jointly by the International Code Council and the National Storm Shelter Association and available at https://codes.iccsafe.org/content/ICC5002014?site_type=public], including the location of each shelter relative to its assigned school building.
For those school buildings in Community High School District 128 that do not have a storm shelter that meets the minimum requirements described above, please provide me with documents showing how and where the children in each of those school buildings are to be sheltered, in case of a tornado emergency, including the location of each shelter relative to its assigned school building.
Please send all material to me at olivia.deloian@nbcchicago. If for some reason you cannot send these records electronically, please contact me so that I can make other arrangements to get these documents from you. And if there is any way at all that I can help you gather this material, I would be most happy to do so.
Because these records are in the public interest, I ask that you waive any reproduction fee. And if you deny this request, please tell me on what grounds, and to whom I should appeal.
If you have any questions concerning this request or need any additional information, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Thank you so much for your time and consideration in this matter.
Researcher, NBC5 Investigates
Today, we sent Ms. Deloian the following email expressing concerns that several clients have raised regarding this FOIA:
My name is John Fester and my law firm represents over 80 school districts in the suburban Chicago area, many of which received a FOIA request from you yesterday seeking records regarding storm shelter availability, or in the absence of a storm shelter, where the students go in the event of severe weather. For those clients with schools built in 2015 or later, or with schools that have been substantially expanded through additions since 2015, they will be able to send you the records reflecting inclusion of ICC-500 storm shelters in their building plans, since that is when Illinois began requiring them in new construction.
However, the vast majority of school districts only have buildings built before 2015, and therefore are not required to have ICC-500 storm shelters. For these schools you have asked for records identifying where the students go in the building during severe weather. Several clients have raised a concern with revealing to the general public where students would be congregated during a severe weather incident. The recent school shootings around the country have all school districts paying very close attention to school security. The concern is that if a gunman wanted to inflict maximum injuries/casualties at a school, knowing when the student body would be assembled in a gymnasium, theater, or other large space would help such a person time an attack. For that reason, I would like to discuss whether you would accept other records and not request of our clients the location(s) for student assembly in the event of severe weather.
Would you be willing to take records that reflect the procedures that would be undertaken in the event of say a tornado warning? The procedures I have reviewed so far from a few clients identify the actions to be taken (e.g. close any open windows, close shades/blinds to reduce possibility of flying glass, lead students to predetermined area in the building, account for all students, etc.), but stop short of identifying the location(s) of student assembly. In light of our clients’ desire to give absolutely no help or advantage to anyone seeking to inflict mass harm on their students, I sincerely appreciate your consideration of my request and I am happy to discuss any questions or concerns you might have. Thank you.
We are waiting to hear back from Ms. Deloian. If you would like assistance in responding to this FOIA request, please email your SHP attorney and we will be happy to assist you with an appropriate response to this request.