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posted: 1/30/2013 5:00 AM

Editorial: No need to arm school personnel

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Initial reactions -- or overreactions -- to the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting are understandable. Small children killed in their classroom is unfathomable. Stopping it from ever happening again is paramount in our thoughts.

But we are thankful that initial reactions are being replaced with common sense as local school officials try to deal with the thorny issues of keeping our kids safe while also not turning schools into armed camps.

The issue of school safety has become part and parcel with the national gun control debate. To that end, gun rights activists have recommended schools hire armed guards and train school personnel so they can be armed as well.

"The only people who can ever stop a crime are the intended victims," Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, told the Daily Herald's Robert Sanchez and Tara Garcia Mathewson in an article Monday. "That would include a teacher or an administrator."

We disagree strongly and hope the gun control debate does not morph into an armed schools debate. We see too many potential problems with having every teacher packing a gun in his or her briefcase or desk.

We are happy that our local school officials instead are looking at improving safety procedures and training on handling crisis situations. That's the right course.

"The carrying, storage and use of firearms are not in the realm of expertise of educational professionals," said Gary Chester, safety officer for Carpentersville-based Community Unit District 300. "School officials that consider arming their own staff members assume huge issues with liability and responsibility."

Indeed, students in particular could get access to the firearms. Nothing good can come of that.

Instead, high schools and middle schools should continue their efforts to partner with local police departments to have school resource officers stationed at the schools. Trained police officers may well carry their guns when they are in the school, just as they do elsewhere in the community. Many already do that in schools in Kane, DuPage, Lake and suburban Cook counties. Police officers in McHenry County are not armed in schools. That policy is one that could be altered if schools want increased security from trained officers.

Meanwhile, other security measures should be the focus. McHenry High School District 156 now asks everyone entering the building to show an ID at its west campus -- an important step many high schools already take. McHenry County's regional superintendent's office is looking to update its systems so that floor plans of every school building in the county are updated annually.

There likely are plenty of security ideas that school officials could learn from each other across the country that don't include arming personnel. Again, let's be proactive, not overreactive.

"Schools are still the safest places where kids can learn and teachers can go to do their work," said John Heiderscheidt, safety coordinator for the Elgin area schools. We agree wholeheartedly.

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