The Examiner U-46 News Feed
IASB delegates oppose local gun control issue
By Seth Hancock
The Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB) delegate assembly has again opposed local control for school districts to determine how to protect students but approved of a resolution to lobby for state taxpayers to fund the local issue at the annual conference in Chicago on Saturday, Nov. 23.
The IASB delegate assembly determines what the lobbyist organization will support in the coming year. School District U-46 was represented by board member Melissa Owens, and its board opposed local control.
Mercer County School District 404 submitted a resolution that sought local control for school districts to allow staff, on a voluntary basis, to carry firearms for protection of students. Rural districts have submitted similar resolutions over several years, but the IASB resolution committee has traditionally opposed it due to fear of an inanimate object, a gun, until the last two years when it has supported it because of the local control aspect.
The resolution asked the IASB to support legislation allowing local school boards to “allow voluntary district employees, in any capacity, the ability to carry a concealed firearm on district property, provided the employee has a valid Illinois FOID (firearm owners identification) card, holds a certified Illinois Concealed Carry License, has completed all additional trainings and certifications set forth by the respective school board, one of which MUST include yearly certified Active Shooter Training. Only district employees who fulfill all requirements listed and receive Superintendent and Board approval would be eligible as an active and armed part of the Student Safety and Protection Plan.”
Last year, a similar resolution was narrowly defeated 203-179 (53 percent opposed). This year’s resolution received 19 more votes in support but was defeated by a slightly larger margin, 249-198 (56 percent opposed), according to an IASB press release.
“The resolution was supported primarily by rural school districts with concerns about emergency response time and lack of financial resources to employ school resource officers,” the release stated. “Districts opposing the measure opined that arming staff would not create a safer environment for their students.”
Julie Wagner, the Mercer County board president, told The Examiner: “We were disappointed, but not surprised at the vote. We are still trying to press the issue that it’s a matter of local control, not that every school district would have to have this option.”
Wagner noted that her school board was not unanimous with “two members who are opposed to staff carry,” but five were in support. She also said that protesters opposed to the resolution were present outside the hotel where the conference was held.
The U-46 board and administration opposed the resolution despite its schools being protected by armed School Resource Officers (SRO) and much quicker police response times than rural school districts like Mercer County.
A related resolution, submitted by Wheeling Central Consolidated School District 21, was approved by the IASB delegate assembly but the vote tally was not included in the IASB release. That resolution supported lobbying for state dollars for school districts to hire SROs or other armed security personnel.
The U-46 board and administration opposed that resolution as well. It was in full support of requiring state taxpayers to fund the local issue but was opposed to local school districts being able to hire off-duty or retired police as an option.
Wagner said that she told the delegate assembly that she “was pleased with the resolution” which addresses the financial concerns for some school districts, but if passed by the Illinois General Assembly it would have little impact for Mercer County. She said it’s not a financial concern for her school district, which wants to take responsibility for student safety, but rather a personnel problem.
“If that were to become legislation and passed, it still would not solve our issue which is lack of staff available,” Wagner said. “We simply can’t get enough personnel to fill the positions we could have available.”
Rural school districts have pleaded for local control on arming staff noting they have no issue with other school district not using the option.
“Our communities and districts differ greatly,” the Mercer County rationale stated. “Some communities are perfectly comfortable with having their teachers and school staff trained and armed so they can protect people in their buildings. 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.”
Wagner’s statement to the delegate assembly addressed some of the concerns other districts have had and also appealed to them to keep an “open mind.” She told the delegates that her district is 378 square miles with five buildings in three towns with police response times of over 20 minutes while their local police departments and sheriff’s offices do not have the personnel available to send SROs to their schools.
“Setting aside our inability to get SRO’s to staff our buildings, our board still believes individual districts should be allowed to decide how best to operate,” Wagner told the delegates. “Local board members live in their communities and know them better than anyone else can. Each of our districts is unique, but one thing we all agree on, we are adamant about our students’ safety. We have differing ideas about how to accomplish that, but it is everyone’s goal. I know this resolution puts forth an idea that some districts would not approve for themselves. But there are districts in this state who would be comfortable with this solution. Why does one size have to fit all on this issue?”
Wagner said there are biometric storage units which would only allow the staff member to reach the gun if or when it’s needed, and staff would volunteer to be armed “allowing them to be defenders and protectors.” She added: “People who are willing to get the training on their own and ask for no compensation are doing this for the right reasons, not for the money. In my opinion, that shows a true, heartfelt motivation to protect the kids,” and “as far as training and pay, that is up to the individual districts.”
A recent study from the Crime Prevention Research Center showed 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. The study also showed that insurance costs for schools that allow armed staff have not increased.