U-46 school board hopefuls discuss whether teachers should be armed
Elgin Area School District U-46 school board hopefuls are divided on whether they would support arming teachers, if allowed by state law.
Incumbents Jeanette Ward of West Chicago and Sue Kerr and John Devereux, both of Bartlett, and newcomers Tina Rio of Bartlett, Kathleen Thommes of Elgin and Eva Porter, Daniel Hancock and Ina Silva-Sobolewski, all of Hanover Park, are vying for four, 4-year seats on April 2.
In November, the Illinois Association of School Boards voted overwhelmingly against supporting legislation that would let local school boards train and arm teachers and administrators in schools. The state legislature would have to take up and approve the measure before it could be allowed statewide.
Currently, Illinois school districts aren't allowed to let anyone knowingly possess a firearm within 1,000 feet of schools under the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990.
During a recent candidate forum, Devereux, Kerr, Porter and Thommes unequivocally rejected the idea of arming school personnel, while Hancock, Silva-Sobolewski and Ward qualified their support as long as there is adequate training for employees.
Porter, 64, a retired teacher, said whether teachers are trained or not, having guns in the classroom is dangerous.
"I just don't know how you can lock down a gun, and if something happens, how can you go get it if it's locked down?" she said. "We should have trained people that we pay and employ to be able to do that."
Thommes, 44, also an educator, emphatically said, "no guns in schools." She added, she supports having trained police and school resource officers in schools.
"They can have guns. Nobody else gets them," she said.
Hancock, 68, a retired electrical engineer, said school districts should be allowed to decide locally whether to arm personnel.
"There could be a need specifically in a rural district," he said.
Ward, 45, a product manager for an international chemical company completing her first term on the board, said all a criminal would need to do is take out a school resource officer to have control of an entire school. She supports arming teachers, if they are properly trained.
"I believe there is no bigger attraction for a criminal than a gun-free zone," she said. "Guns in the hands of good people are a deterrent to evil. Who are we to tie the hands of our teachers when they and their children's lives are on the line?"
Kerr, 62, also a one-term incumbent and a retired computer programmer/analyst, said arming teachers could create more problems.
"Is a teacher supposed to leave his or her classroom and run after the intruder?" she asked adding, what if police were to mistake armed teachers for the intruder. "You only need one mistake."
Kerr said teachers couldn't easily get the type of training police officers undergo.
Devereux, 52, an actuary appointed to the board last June, said U-46 already partners with local police departments that have resource officers in some schools and should explore other options before arming district personnel.
"Data show that police officers in 20 to 30 percent of the situations hit their target when firing their weapon," he said. "That's not an indictment of police officers, but instead it demonstrates the volatility of very dangerous situations. There is no way that teachers could get the training, the lifelong, situational, in-depth training that police officers have. By introducing more guns into schools, we would in effect be making a dangerous situation even more dangerous."
Silva-Sobolewski, 56, a Portuguese translator/interpreter, urged constituents to draw their own conclusions about whether arming teachers is necessary in today's climate of mass shootings.
"It's up to our judgment ... the safety of our children is extremely important, and the safety of our teachers, as well," she said.
Rio, 52, who works for the airline industry and aligns herself with Ward, Hancock and Silva-Sobolewski, did not participate in the forum. Attempts to reach her were unsuccessful.