Why suburban school districts are discussing arming teachers

Downstate districts want school board association to lobby for permission

 
 
Posted10/10/2018 5:30 AM
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  • Several downstate school districts want the authority to train and equip staff members with firearms.

    Several downstate school districts want the authority to train and equip staff members with firearms. Artwell photo

School districts across the suburbs are discussing arming teachers or administrators -- even if it's an option they might not consider for their own buildings.

The issue emerged because the Illinois Association of School Boards will convene next month for its annual conference that brings together one representative from each member district across the state to vote on topics the association should include among its legislative priorities.

For the third straight year, several downstate districts want the association to lobby to give them the ability to train and equip teachers and administrators with weapons.

Even if approved as one of the association's priorities, the proposal would not take effect unless the state legislature passed it into law.

The specific proposal school board representatives must vote on next month would allow individual districts to choose whether they want to arm faculty members as part of a student safety and protection plan.

Illinois districts currently aren't allowed to let anyone knowingly possess a firearm within 1,000 feet of their schools under the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990.

Mercer County Unit District 404, which proposed the armed-teachers idea, is careful to say it "would not compel or require any school district or school board to develop or implement any such trained and armed staff plan."

Suburban school board members are equally careful to point out the long political road ahead of any such proposal.

"It's not something that, as a board member, I personally favor," said Terry Fielden of the Naperville Unit District 203 school board, who served as the DuPage County representative on a committee within the Association of School Boards that vets lobbying topics for each November's conference. "It is unusual for us."

Kristin Fitzgerald, District 203's board president, said the topic is not being considered for implementation locally.

"There's no proposal in front of District 203 regarding arming staff or teachers of any kind," Fitzgerald said. "This is just a debate about the IASB resolution."

Wheeling Township Elementary District 21 school board President Phil Pritzker, who is the immediate past president of the Illinois Association of School Boards, said he has tried to prevent the armed-teachers proposal from gaining a recommendation as something the entire group of districts should support. On the committee that considers legislative proposals, Pritzker said he and six others voted in opposition to the measure.

But 15 committee members supported it, so the proposal goes to the conference as a recommended priority for the coming year.

Pritzker said the proposal aims to help rural districts address problems with geography, response times and a lack of resources they might encounter in providing security through local police. In the proposal, the Mercer County district said many rural schools do not have a resource officer in each building or any officers nearby.

Police presence -- either within or close to schools -- is not a problem across the suburbs. But school board members here say they empathize with those districts that face such struggles.

"I just think the state needs to step up to provide the security," Fielden said.

The armed-teachers idea is among eight proposals or statements that could be adopted as additions or amendments to the organization's list of 139 current positions.

• Daily Herald staff writer Christopher Placek contributed to this report.

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