© 2024 Peoria Public Radio
A joint service of Bradley University and Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Peoria Public Schools safety chief focuses on mental health, new technology for new school year

Kristin McHugh/WCBU

Peoria Public Schools Director of School Safety Demario Boone says he's focused on prevention to keep schools safe.

Boone said that mental health support for students is one of the key pillars to prevent attacks from happening. He said the active assailant training staff members receive includes how to identify signs of a mental crisis in students, staff and parents.

“Making sure that people are mentally okay,” he said. “And we can't just look at the active assailant as always being a student. You could have stressed out adults there. You have stressed out staff, you have stressed out parents. So the active assailant could be anybody.”

Boone said that creating a culture where students feel comfortable reaching out for help is an essential part of keeping schools safe.

“If everybody is healthy and okay and has the support they need, then we wouldn't be talking about these active shooters or active assailant incidents,” Boone said. “People will be healthy, happy and whole. But we don't have that. It's just not the society we live in.”

Demario Boone
Peoria Public Schools
Demario Boone

The school has technology in place to monitor student devices for specific keywords such as gun, suicide, self harm and violence. He said the program monitors for those triggers, instead of creating a report of everything students are searching.

“There have been a couple of times where it was flagged and we were able to investigate and there was an English paper, somebody did an English paper on something that happened and it said the word gun in it,” Boone said.

He says the technology allows them to intervene if students are looking up information on troubling topics.

The district also has an artificial intelligence system in place called IntelliSee, which monitors the schools’ cameras. The system takes screenshots of any potential dangers, from someone outside the building to a water spill in the hallway, and sends them to Boone.

He said the district got the system after the Uvalde shooting.

“The suspect there had driven a truck near the school, wrecked the truck, got out of the truck with a long rifle, was shooting at some people outside, walked up to the school, walked around the building to test doors to get inside, then was able to get inside with with the gun and wreak havoc,” Boone said. “I wanted to think about okay, how do we stop it before it hits the school? Before it hits the door?”

Boone said the district is also working with the Peoria Police Department for a model around prevention and not just reacting and “arresting our way out of the issue.”

He said the next steps they are working towards is creating a task force to help students and families in need.

“Identifying students early, identifying families early that are in need of services, and then mapping out what that looks like, how to refer those families for services, how to follow up with these students,” Boone said. “To make sure that we're just doing prevention and not just reacting to the violence or crime.”

Camryn Cutinello is a reporter and digital content director at WCBU. You can reach Camryn at cncutin@illinoisstate.edu.