Editorial: Grants proposal a better idea than arming teachers

For the second straight year, the school districts that make up the Illinois Association of School Boards have, wisely, voted against the notion of supporting legislation that could allow teachers in some districts to be armed.

With a 249-198 margin, this year's vote was slightly more emphatic than the mere 24 votes that determined the issue in 2018, but it still reflects the significant uneasiness of many Illinois school districts contemplating their alternatives if the unthinkable happens and they find an active shooter in their midst.

The concerns of these districts should not be dismissed out of hand. Many do not have the funds to hire on-site school resource officers who could provide help in the event of an attack. Many others, especially small rural districts, do not have highly trained police responders nearby who could arrive quickly to help.

For these reasons, a resolution put forth by Wheeling Township Elementary District 21 and adopted by the IASB has special merit. It calls for the association to push for a special grant program to help districts who find themselves in these circumstances.

The shape and scope of any such grant program remain to be determined, and that is no small drawback. Not least among the questions that would have to be answered is where the money for such an effort would come from. But numerous other details also need to be settled, including how a district would qualify for resources, whether or how much it would have to contribute to funding special security resources, what such funds could specifically be used for and how much money could even be made available.

But the reasoning behind the proposal is solid, and recognizes the vast diversity of school districts in Illinois. A District 21 resolution reported by the Daily Herald's Bob Susnjara last month, states the case succinctly.

"Rather than to continually debate a proposal (for armed employees) with little future and therefore little likelihood of advancing the cause of school safety," the statement reads in part, "this proposal ... has the possibility of addressing the concerns of those districts that have apprehensions about the response times of first responders as well as the cost concerns of employing trained school resource officers.

Teachers have a big enough job nurturing and educating children. Expecting them to be sufficiently expert in handling weapons to be more help than hindrance in the event of an armed attack is unrealistic and dangerous. Of course, they need to be trained thoroughly in procedures for keeping kids safe in an emergency, but letting them wield firearms is not the answer, as the IASB's decision recognizes.

But giving school districts in special circumstances resources that can help them respond effectively in a crisis is a more-than-reasonable alternative. We urge lawmakers and policymakers to listen to the state's school boards and begin building a program that will help achieve it.

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