Breaking News: Niles North Evacuated to Niles West

Niles North students evacuated to Niles West following a bomb threat to their school on Wed., Feb. 21. Photo by Vinny Bellissimo.

By Grace Geraghty, Editor in Chief

Niles North experienced a bomb threat today, Wed., Feb. 21, which necessitated the entire student body being evacuated from school premises to the Niles West field house. The ninth period evacuation followed a “hold in place,” in which students and teachers were to remain in their classrooms as a soft lockdown procedure.

While North students were getting situated at Niles West, a “hold in place” was exercised over West students, ordering them to remain in their ninth period classes until an announcement was made around 4:00 p.m. allowing them to leave the premises. The most recent situation follows another “hold in place” that occurred at Niles North on Mon., Feb. 12 resulting from a supposed bomb threat that was deemed un-credible.

In an email, Niles North principal James Edwards confirmed that the evacuation was due to a bomb threat called into the Skokie Police Department. Administration’s main priority was to keep students safe.

“Our priority is to make sure that everyone is out of any potential harm at North,” Edwards said. “We understand that this situation will cause great anxiety for families. Please know that our first priority is to keep your children and staff safe.”

Many Niles North students were scared during the evacuation, but felt much safer once they reached Niles West.

“It’s a real shocker. There was actually a bomb threat. We’re already safe right now [at West], but inside [my level of concern] was probably like an 8. The first wave of students got out right away, but there weren’t enough buses,” Niles North sophomore Aldwinn Tiu said.

Due to the lock down last week, students experienced any even deeper level of anxiety regarding the situation today.

“When they first said this lock down, I thought it was going to be the same thing as last week. But when they told us to evacuate, it was kind of scary. Everybody was scared; everybody was kind of freaking out. But right now it looks like everybody is safe,” sophomore Yahya Salih said.

The threat left many parents understandably shaken up as well.

“The anxiety and the fear of having two bomb threats in one week, it makes me nervous. Last week, it was just a lock down, and this week it’s an evacuation. So, of course I want the students’ safety. The fear of why are there two bomb threats in one week [is present],” Niles North parent Michelle Silver said. “I’m considering moving from Skokie, and I grew up here. I’m literally considering it.”

Despite the fear, Silver does think the evacuation was the right choice for Niles North students.

“I think the evacuation was the right decision, and they did notify us soon after by text and email,” she said. “But I did have to find out about it on the news and from my kids, so this is scary.”

Niles West principal Jason Ness praised the district for the level of partnership demonstrated between both schools.

“I’ve been here since 1999, and this is the first time in my career with Niles Township that we have had any type of evacuation from one high school to the other. It shows a great deal of cooperation and collaboration in this type of situation,” Ness said.

Although many Niles West students expressed frustration with having to remain at school after the 3:23 bell due to the influx of North students on the district transportation, Ness defended the decision.

“Our students and staff reacted great here. I think extending our ninth period 15 to 20 minutes was extremely helpful,” Ness said. “It allowed us to stabilize the situation and get the North students over here in the field house and just maintain control. It allowed us to communicate with the families and community to keep everything calm and safe.”

Throughout his career with the district, Ness has never experienced more than one serious lockdown in a school year.

“It might be the first time also we’ve had two lockdowns in the same school year,” Ness said. “I don’t remember that in my career, and I’ve been at all three campuses (Niles North, Niles West, and Niles Central), so we’re in a little bit of uncharted territory.”

At 4:08 p.m., a robocall was issued from the district to all houses alerting families and employees of the lockdown.

Niles North students will be transferred home from Niles West by bus; parents can also come pick up their children at Niles West.

Updates are still being made to this story. 

Divitya Vakil and Sammy Butera contributed to this story.