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updated: 8/28/2012 8:10 AM

Elgin teacher says new law could have prevented attack against her

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  • Elgin High School teacher Carolyn Gilbert speaks about the 2008 attack on her by a student and the legislation resulting from it. She's expected to be at Gov. Pat Quinn's side Monday when he signs the measure into law.

       Elgin High School teacher Carolyn Gilbert speaks about the 2008 attack on her by a student and the legislation resulting from it. She's expected to be at Gov. Pat Quinn's side Monday when he signs the measure into law.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Elgin High School teacher Carolyn Gilbert speaks about the 2008 attack on her by a student and the legislation resulting from it. She's expected to be at Gov. Pat Quinn's side Monday when he signs the measure into law.

       Elgin High School teacher Carolyn Gilbert speaks about the 2008 attack on her by a student and the legislation resulting from it. She's expected to be at Gov. Pat Quinn's side Monday when he signs the measure into law.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Carolyn Gilbert on new law

 
By Kerry Lester
Politics and Projects Writer
klester@dailyherald.com

It will never replace the eye she lost in the unexpected knife attack by a former student who had considered her a favorite teacher.

Yet, Elgin High School teacher Carolyn Gilbert says, new school safety legislation -- slated to be signed by Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday at the high school -- could prevent future tragedies by allowing police and schools to better share information about potentially dangerous students.

And to her, that's something.

"I just hope nobody else has to go through what I had to go through. And if this prevents it, that's great," Gilbert said.

Gilbert's attacker - then 16-year-old Angel Facio, of Elgin - was the subject of a pending police investigation for a crime outside of school. Elgin High School officials were completely unaware of that investigation until after the Jan. 18, 2008, attack on Gilbert. Facio subsequently was charged with another assault that occurred before his attack on Gilbert.

"It may not have happened to me if there would have been that communication, because he'd had those other problems with the law. If we'd known about that I would have never, ever been in the room alone with him," she said.

Gilbert made the comments in a video interview with the Daily Herald, her first time on camera since the Jan. 18, 2008 attack.

The legislation, inspired by a Daily Herald investigation and approved by both the state House and Senate this spring, 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 bill was revised from the initial version to meet concerns about students' privacy, cutting the types of offenses that can be shared and keeping 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 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."

In the aftermath of the Elgin High School stabbing, the Daily Herald 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.

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, has said she expects the plan to "make schools safe again."

Quinn, for weeks, had given little indication of whether he had planned to sign the legislation in a public setting, if at all.

School District U-46 officials were informed early last week of the governor's plans to hold the signing ceremony at Elgin High School.

Gilbert said Thursday she hoped her students might have the opportunity to attend the signing.

Many of them hadn't had a chance to meet the governor before, she mused.

As to the attack, it's not something she speaks about often. But she thinks about it "every day," she said. "I just couldn't believe a student would do that."

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