Editorial: Time to get serious about protecting our kids in schools

  • People embrace outside the Alamo Gym where students and parents wait to reunite after a shooting at Santa Fe High School on May 18 in Santa Fe, Texas.

    People embrace outside the Alamo Gym where students and parents wait to reunite after a shooting at Santa Fe High School on May 18 in Santa Fe, Texas. Michael Ciaglo/Houston Chronicle via AP

 
Updated 5/23/2018 7:08 AM

In the wake of yet another school shooting, it is an embarrassment even to frame the rhetorical question: How many of our children must die before we will act to make them safe at school?

The lives of elementary and high school students have become caught up in the drive to protect the sanctity of a constitutional amendment and society's inability to reconcile cultural habits and behavioral controls. Yet, we refuse to believe that fear for the security of our children is an unavoidable cost of freedom. And, we refuse to accept that there is hope to be found somewhere in the present strategy of combined argument, insult, statutory cosmetics, political pretense, platitudes, thoughts and prayers. We need action from many fronts and we surely must not delay further.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Why then do we on the Daily Herald editorial board find ourselves calling for the creation of a statewide task force on school security? The "blue ribbon task force" is a process that often is used to stall, rather than stir, action on an important issue and to produce ideas that politicians ignore while pretending to show concern. But that does not have to be, and if any issue cries out for urgency and clarity of objectives, it must be the deaths of eight students and two teachers in Santa Fe, Texas, along with all the deaths, injuries and disrupted lives that preceded them in schools across the country.

In that spirit, we urge Gov. Bruce Rauner and state leaders not to waste a minute to produce effective, manageable strategies for protecting our children at school. We have, presumably, a summer's respite before we will again begin handing our children over to institutions whose abilities to protect them have been proven inadequate time and again. We must use that time to find something better.

We can find something better by bringing together the best minds of our state, the most experienced security experts and top administrators, teachers, social scientists, counselors, activists and community leaders, then assigning them this task:

By the end of August, review the available research on mental health, social media, gun violence and school security measures from around the world and make specific recommendations in two formats -- one, addressed to schools, describing specific safety measures that all schools should implement to minimize the chance for a school shooting event and to respond effectively if one occurs; and two, addressed to lawmakers, describing gun controls and other laws that data and experience elsewhere show to be effective.

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This is, we know, a lot to ask in a short amount of time in the tainted environment of a statewide election campaign. But we also know that nothing of value is accomplished without a deadline and any deadline beyond the start of the next school year could be too late. We need to set politics aside and apply unwavering focus on finding solutions. Citizens and leaders of true goodwill can find a way to do that.

In the meantime, if schools aren't already planning such an activity, they should spend the summer conducting a safety audit to review the procedures they have in place now. They should prepare to start the next year with clear guidelines and practices that are well-publicized to students, parents and the community and fully ingrained in the staff and all personnel. They should identify physical structures, security personnel, floor plans, doorway policies and any other physical conditions they can control to protect against an armed intruder.

The best safety strategy Illinois' political leaders can come up with at the moment is a highly politicized pretense of concern managing the licensing of gun dealers. Every speed bump that slows down a potential mass killer has some value, of course, and as we have long advocated, an ultimate solution will require some regulation of gun ownership and handling. But we need more than speed bumps, and we already have exhausted too much valuable time quarreling over where to find the perfect balance between one person's right to own a gun and another's right to live.

Indeed, that very conversation has devolved into a caustic and ineffectual exchange of insults. We cannot allow that to continue. We must reshape the conversation about guns to recognize that, regardless of how firmly we oppose or support gun control, our common interest is in the joys, growth and safety of our children and our communities. We must concentrate on the actions we can take to protect them. Governor, state lawmakers, school leaders ... we must wait no longer.

Let's get the wheels in motion for producing real solutions and set the timetable for putting the solutions in place. Let's put behind us once and for all the need for further embarrassing questions about our commitment to the safety of our kids.

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