Illinois Association of School Boards considers arming teachers

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Daily file photo by Patrick Svitek

The Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Education Center, 1500 McDaniel Avenue. District 65 has said it is against arming teachers.

Andrew Myers, Reporter

The Illinois Association of School Boards, a lobbying group that advocates for education policy in the Illinois state legislature, has laid out resolutions to support legislation that promotes arming school faculty in anticipation of their Joint Annual Conference.

The IASB, which is made up of delegates from 98 percent of all school districts in Illinois, will hold their Joint Annual Conference from Nov. 22 to 24 to lay out their objectives and which legislation they will support next year. Among the list of 12 new resolutions to be considered this year, two include wording surrounding the use of firearms by either school resource officers or authorized school faculty.

With resistance to similar resolutions that were taken up at IASB’s annual conference last year, the reemergence of this topic at this year’s conference has reignited the debate around whether or not to arm school teachers in the face of the growing number of school shootings nationally each year.

Joseph Hailpern, a member of the board of education for the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 and the board’s IASB delegate, said the issue is more nuanced as the school districts in favor of arming teachers are from more rural districts than Evanston.

“The district and Resolution Committee’s rationale for putting (the resolution) in speaks to the diversity of school districts in Illinois, and it makes a lot of sense,” Hailpern said. “Districts in rural communities have a very different lived experience regarding access to police, proximity to police and response times.”

Evanston Township High School District 202 was not available for comment at the time of publication.

In 2019 alone, there have been at least 78 incidents of gunfire on school grounds in the United States, resulting in 12 deaths — including 3 suicides — and 48 injuries according to Everytown for Gun Safety.

Among the resolutions surrounding firearm use, one calls for the IASB to support legislation that would give local school boards the option to develop Student Safety and Protection Plans. These plans would authorize “voluntary district employees, in any capacity” to carry a concealed firearm as long as they have obtained the necessary licenses, certifications and training.

Another resolution involves the IASB advocating for school safety grant programs at the state level, which would assist school districts in hiring school resource officers with past law enforcement experience. These SROs would then be authorized to carry a firearm, given that they continue firearm training, according to the proposal.

The reintroduction of these resolutions has provoked concern among parents, students and school board members who opposed similar resolutions last year. Allison Longenbaugh, a mother of three children who attend Naperville North High School, told The Chicago Tribune on Oct. 8 that she was not comfortable with the resolutions.

“The state shouldn’t expose kids unnecessarily to any tools of violence,” she told The Tribune. “Adding guns into the circulation will always put kids at risk, and the state should universally adopt the position to not arm school district employees.”

While Hailpern acknowledged the issue is more complicated than it appears, he ultimately said firearms should stay out of school zones and that there are more effective solutions to combat the recent uptick in school shootings.

District 65 also expressed its opposition to arming teachers after a federal commission included the provision in its school safety recommendations last January.

“I’m a school principal, and I don’t think me having a firearm makes my school safer,” Hailpern said. “The solution, in my educator and board member view, is to build better relationships and casting better webs of support for people in the school community, not adding protective measures via firearms into the school.”

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