Downstate school district considers arming administrators
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- School officials in a central Illinois town are considering training a handful of administrators as auxiliary police officers and letting them carry concealed handguns at the local high school.
The idea being considered at Washington Community High School is, like many campus-safety plans being discussed nationwide, a response to the December shootings that killed 20 children and six educators at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
But it's illegal in Illinois to carry concealed weapons, so the proposal suggests a way around the law: Making a few administrators part of the police force, Washington police Chief Jim Kuchenbecker said.
"They would not be paid but they would be commissioned as part-time, auxiliary police officers with very restricted responsibilities," he said. "We're not talking about going back to the old days of the wild west and giving everybody a gun."
But those administrators would only be allowed to carry guns on campus -- meaning the guns would either be locked in the school or taken home at night. Kuchenbecker said he would prefer the latter.
Kuchenbecker and school Superintendent Jim Dunnan came up with the idea and planned to talk about it with school board members in Washington, a town of about 15,000 just west of Peoria, at a Monday night meeting. Dunnan did not return a call seeking comment Monday.
No action was expected at the meeting, board President Tim Custis said, but he said he wanted to hear more after the idea was presented last week to a parent advisory group. Custis said he expects criticism, and noted that at least one board member has already voiced objections.
"I'm sure the (criticism) is going to be a knee-jerk overreaction to Sandy Hook," he said. "I think we're just trying to set up a last line of defense in the case of an intruder."
In Illinois, discussions about gun control and arming school staff run into the state's ban on concealed weapons. A three-judge federal appeals court panel recently struck down the law, but Attorney General Lisa Madigan has asked that the entire 10-judge court rehear the case.
Kuchenbecker hasn't heard of any schools in Illinois considering a plan like his. He said some of his idea came from outside the state, most notably Harrold, Texas. The rural town started arming some staff in 2008 because of fears that local police were too far away should something happen on campus.
Under Kuchenbecker's plan, three administrators would take police's 40-hour firearms training class and then become unpaid auxiliary police. But they could only carry a gun at the high school, they couldn't make arrests, and each would have to prove they were qualified to use the gun every month.
"This is real, and again, this is not for anything other than to protect our community, our children, to get another added layer of security," Kuchenbecker said, noting that his son is a senior at the high school.
The police chief said three administrators have already volunteered, but he declined to name them. The campus already has an armed resource officer.
Colleen Daley, executive director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, said it's a bad idea.
"I just don't think that putting armed guards essentially in a school is going to protect kids," she said. "If that's the only way they're going to feel safe, what lesson are we teaching our kids?"
Custis said parents in the advisory group last week seemed receptive. The Associated Press attempted to contact several Monday but calls were not returned.
Custis, who doesn't own a gun, said arming administrators "would have been the furthest thing from my mind" when he joined the board in 2001.
"I don't know that I'll ever be 100 percent comfortable with guns in the school," he said. But with the restrictions Kuchenbecker has proposed, he said, "I think I could see it going forward."