The Examiner U-46 News Feed
U-46 molding its stance on IASB resolutions
By Seth Hancock
School District U-46 officials continue to assert their desire for authoritarian control over how other school districts protect their students.
This weekend, Nov. 22 to Nov. 24, taxpayers will pay for school board members and administrators from across the state to go to Chicago for the annual Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB) where representatives will vote on what the lobbyist organization will push state lawmakers on in the coming year.
To be voted on this year is a resolution submitted by a rural school district in Mercer County to support legislation for local control to allow schools to have armed staff who would undergo strict ongoing training. A similar resolution was defeated, 203-179, last year.
Rural communities have been seeking local control for years because their police departments don’t have the staff for School Resource Officers (SRO). U-46 does have SROs.
“Some communities are perfectly comfortable with having their teachers and school staff trained and armed so they can protect people in their buildings,” the Mercer County district’s rationale stated. “Other communities are adamantly opposed to the idea. That is okay. The districts in our state should be allowed to determine what is best for them, rather than leaving the determination to those in Springfield who do not know or understand communities outside their own.”
With no discussion or any evidence provided for their position, the U-46 administration and board opposed the resolution and local control at the Oct. 21 and Nov. 4 board meetings when the IASB resolutions were presented. Some data, in fact, suggests armed staff does make schools safer with a recent study from the Crime Prevention Research Center showing that between 2000 and 2018 with 20 states allowing armed staff, there have been no gun-related injuries or deaths in those schools while there have been 215 firearm deaths in the so-called “gun free zone” schools.
U-46 officials doubled down on supporting dictatorial rule on a related resolution taking a stance that board member Kate Thommes called “arrogant” while later fully supporting the “arrogant” stance.
A Wheeling-based school district submitted a resolution it states to “bridge the gap” from the “strong division” in the IASB regarding arming teachers. The resolution supports state taxpayers funding local student protection to give funds to districts to hire SROs or “off-duty law enforcement officers or a law enforcement officer who has retired within the previous five years” who would be “receiving the same ongoing firearm training as active police officers.”
“The problem is that in more rural areas, SROs are not readily available and can be costly to a school district,” the IASB resolution committee stated in support of the Wheeling resolution.
While U-46 officials opposed local districts protecting their local students in a way they want to and at their own cost, they were unanimously in support of making state taxpayers fund the local issue.
However, U-46 opposed the resolution because under the resolution local school districts could hire off-duty or retired police who would not be defined as SROs while citing concerns despite openly admitting they don’t have details.
“We don’t think it’s quite the type of individual that you need” and SRO’s “would be the individuals that we would want in our schools,” said Miguel Rodriguez, chief legal officer.
U-46 CEO Tony Sanders stated his desire for power over the rural districts runs deeper saying it “does not matter” if other school districts have SROs or other security, including off-duty or retired police, if they aren’t first forced to go through a checklist to have the same kind of locks, school counselors, social workers, etc. that U-46 has.
Board member Melissa Owens was U-46’s voting representative at last year’s IASB convention and will be again this year. She ultimately supported the board consensus but empathized with the rural school districts.
Owens said it was “distressing to hear” from the downstate districts who can have lengthy police response times, well over half and hour, and it’s not just a funding issue but the Wheeling resolution may not even “help these districts because they just don’t have that personnel available to them” making the arming of teachers a more necessary option for them.
“We’re so comfortable here, and it’s really difficult to say to the people coming in from downstate ‘no, you can’t have armed staff and also you can’t have a modification on your SROs,’” Owens said. “It doesn’t sit well with me.”
Sanders said SROs are “one of the investments we continue to make very deliberatively” while downstate districts may not despite shortly after admitting Owens’ point: “They probably don’t have a retired or off-duty either…. I don’t know if they do or they don’t.”
Thommes said: “I am a firm, strong believer there will not be guns in U-46 schools if I am on this school board, hands down, unless they’re with trained law enforcement…. But it’s arrogant of us to determine how a community that is vastly different from ours gets to protect itself.”
Even after that statement, Thommes still opposed the resolution over the concerns cited by Sanders and the district including concerns of security in plain clothes being armed despite nothing in the resolution stating that these security personnel would not have uniforms. Sanders said he didn’t “know how they would be wearing the uniform of a police officer.”
Thommes said “I love the idea” of government forcing taxpayers to fund local security but opposed people freely donating to fund it as the resolution did provide a provision to allow private donations to fund the program which Thommes said “could be a little concerning.”
Another concern raised was there’s a new state law, which is still undefined, requiring specialized training for SROs for dealing with kids while the non-SRO security personnel, who would have strict firearm training, did not have to receive that training. U-46 has had SROs for over a decade without this training mandate.
Board member Eva Porter had concerns with SROs in general. She said: “I, as an African-American woman, know that police and some students, they don’t mix well together because of the fear.”
Board members John Devereux, Sue Kerr, Veronica Noland and Donna Smith all fully supported taxpayers funding this but opposed the resolution based on U-46’s concerns. Kerr said “the argument for this district is we only need some catastrophe” for U-46 to care and she’d “like to give support,” but she still opposes it.
Noland and Sanders both said their representative should vote on what’s best for U-46 which Thommes said then “I would definitely want to say that I oppose it because that’s what’s in the best interest of U-46.” Outside of the taxpayer funding portion of the Wheeling resolution, neither resolution would directly affect U-46 which already has SROs.
Owens noted the hypocrisy as the district supported a resolution solely effecting Peoria schools that “has no bearing to us whatsoever.” Rodriguez said for that resolution: “It’s only going to be affecting them, and if that’s what they want we’re fine with that.”