Suburban school boards to vote on whether to lobby for law allowing armed employees on campus
Suburban school officials will vote on a pair of controversial security-related proposals being considered during Saturday's Illinois Association of School Boards' annual convention.
Elected school board members from across the state, selected by colleagues as delegates, will vote on a proposal calling for legislation allowing districts to arm teachers and other employees, and a Wheeling Township Elementary District 21 resolution to push for state grants to fund school resource officers. Other resolutions also will be up for votes during the conference at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.
Last year, convention delegates rejected a similar resolution to arm school employees by a 203-179 vote. School boards have been deciding how their delegates should vote at this year's conference.
State legislators and Gov. J.B. Pritzker would have to back the measures for them to become law. The school board association lobbies the General Assembly to create laws for resolutions that are passed by the membership at the convention.
District 21 board leader Phil Pritzker -- immediate past president of the association and no relation to the governor -- said it's "virtually impossible" to get a handle on the votes in advance because about 850 school systems are eligible to attend the conference, which doesn't require registration.
Mercer County School District 404 in downstate Aledo is behind the resolution pushing to allow employees with concealed weapons on campus -- a proposal that an association committee says should be passed. Proponents say it would help rural districts, where it can take longer for police to respond to an emergency.
However, groups, including Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense In America, have been urging suburban school officials to oppose the proposal. They contend firearms in schools would be a safety risk, not an enhancement.
Naperville Unit District 203, Palatine Township Elementary District 15, Community Unit District 300, Barrington Area Unit District 220 and District 21 are among the suburban systems that will vote against it. District 203 board members in a statement cited the "great risk this resolution would place, both physically and emotionally, on students and staff."
"What I'm hearing is that there is potentially more support for it this year, which is frightening, right?" District 203 board member Janet Yang Rohr said at a recent meeting.
But at District 15, board member Frank Annerino opposed the majority's position on the issue and said local school systems should have the option to decide on armed employees.
"No one's being forced to do this," Annerino said.
District 21 wants support for its hot-button resolution calling for the association to push for safety grants from the state to pay for school resource officers. Phil Pritzker said the proposal, which is recommended for approval, would help districts lacking money and encumbered by potentially long response times by first responders.
"We felt it is a good path to respond to the need without having to take the extraordinary step of arming staff members," he said.
Nearby District 15 is among those opposing District 21's idea, with board President Lisa Szczupaj saying grants should also include securing school vestibules or mental health counselors. However, the District 203 board agreed the proposal is a good alternative to armed school employees.