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updated: 5/30/2012 5:36 PM

School anti-violence law heads to Quinn

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  • Teacher Carolyn Gilbert laughs on stage at a fashion show put on by Elgin High School students 2009. Gilbert endured a lengthy physical and emotional recovery before returning to teach at Elgin High School, following a 2008 knife attack by a student.

      Teacher Carolyn Gilbert laughs on stage at a fashion show put on by Elgin High School students 2009. Gilbert endured a lengthy physical and emotional recovery before returning to teach at Elgin High School, following a 2008 knife attack by a student.
    File photo

  • Angel Facio

      Angel Facio

 
By Kerry Lester and Ryan Voyles
klester@dailyherald.com, rvoyles@dailyherald.com

Legislation intended to prevent school violence like the 2008 stabbing of an Elgin teacher is on its way to Gov. Pat Quinn after winning approval Wednesday in the Illinois House.

The legislation, inspired by a Daily Herald investigation and approved 98-19 in the House, would allow police to share information with certain school officials if they believe a student has been violent outside of school and could be an immediate threat to others. The Senate approved the bill Friday.

Quinn has not indicated whether he will sign it into law.

The bill was revised from the initial version to meet concerns about students' privacy, cutting the types of offenses that can be shared and moving to keep the information out of written student records.

It would allow law enforcement officials to provide information to school officials "only if the agency or officer believes that there is an imminent threat of physical harm to students, school personnel, or others who are present in the school or on school grounds." All communication must be kept separate from the student's permanent school record and "shall not be a public record."

Offenses that could be shared include all felonies, plus unlawful use of weapons, possession of marijuana or controlled substances, harassment through electronic communication and hazing. Students may be referred to treatment or counseling if it is deemed appropriate.

Officials in Elgin Area School District U-46, where Elgin High School teacher Carolyn Gilbert was stabbed by student Angel Facio, say the bill takes significant steps toward making schools safer.

"This legislation drives right at the school safety issues," U-46 school safety coordinator John Heiderscheidt said.

"We can do things pretty quickly in schools with that information ... to help protect the student from themselves."

A Daily Herald investigation in the aftermath of the Elgin High School stabbing found that of 40 school districts representing more than 350 schools around the state, all but five have what are known as "reciprocal reporting" agreements, meant to allow information about students to be shared between school and police officials.

Yet, few of these agreements are functioning as they should, data showed.

During the 2010-11 school year, according to information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, only four of the 40 school districts tracked how many times information was shared between police departments and schools. Officials at only seven districts knew how many of their students had been arrested in any given school year.

In Elgin, school officials did not know before the attack on Gilbert that Facio, then 16, was under investigation for the sexual assault of 8-year-old and the assault of a 13-year-old girl.

Gilbert lost an eye in the attack but has since returned to teaching at Elgin High.

Following the Daily Herald investigation, Mundelein Police Chief Ray Rose and Mundelein school officials began meeting last fall, bringing state lawmakers and juvenile justice advocates into talks seeking stronger rules governing exchange of information about students.

State Rep. Carol Sente, a Vernon Hills Democrat and sponsor of the bill, said she expects the plan to "make schools safe again."

Yet, the plan faced opposition from some, who felt it could go too far.

"I don't think you should report everything for every child," said state Rep. Rosemary Mulligan, a Des Plaines Republican.

"We're not doing a very good job of educating or helping our children, but we're doing a very good job of throwing them in prison," said Rep. Mary Flowers, a Chicago Democrat.

State Sen. John Millner, a Carol Stream Republican and sponsor of the bill, said he worked with opponents to address their concerns.

"We want to make sure we prevent violence and that we're actually protecting that child by focusing on that child's behavior to prevent any further criminal activity," he said.

Quinn has 60 days to sign or veto the legislation, or it automatically becomes law.

Brooke Anderson, press secretary for the governor, said Quinn will review the bill once it reaches his desk. If Quinn approves it, Heiderscheidt said U-46 officials would like to attend the bill signing.

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