Highland News Leader

Will Highland District 5 teachers be allowed to carry firearms in the classroom?

Later this month, Highland school leaders will be among those voting whether local districts should be able to allow teachers to carry firearms in the classroom.

Last year, the Illinois Association of School Boards voted 203-179 against a measure that would have authorized lobbying for local school districts to be able to arm teachers, according to the Chicago Tribune.

A “yes” vote does not mean teachers would be automatically allowed to carry guns; it would, however, mean the IASB could push for the state legislature to place control over such a decision at the local level. That vote will be coming up again this month for delegates to IASB.

Rene’ Friedel has served on the Highland District 5 school board 15 years, and for last year and this year, she is Highland’s delegate to the IASB general convention. She said the debate on the issue was heated and extensive, and opinions on whether teachers should carry firearms were “quite the opposite of what you’d think.”

It was the rural districts in Southern Illinois that wanted the choice to rest with local school boards, while inner-city districts were primarily opposed, Friedel said. “(Rural districts) felt they did not have the support of local police,” she said.

Reports of 30-minute response times to more remote schools made them more concerned that in the case of an active shooter, the schools might be on their own for an extended period of time.

Friedel said it’s important to recognize IASB does not make the decision itself: The vote will only authorize lobbying to the legislature. Even if approved by the legislature, the measure would just place the authority for arming teachers at the local school board level.

Superintendent Mike Sutton declined to say whether he was in favor or opposed to the measure. But he said he did understand the concerns of rural districts as opposed to urban or suburban-area schools that were physically closer to law enforcement response.

The teachers’ unions have largely opposed the idea. Last year, the Illinois Federation of Teachers overwhelmingly passed a resolution declaring opposition to the idea of arming teachers, calling instead for stricter gun controls and expansion of mental health services.

At the same time, the Illinois Education Association president Kathi Griffin issued a statement that “arming teachers is not the answer.” Instead, she said, IEA has created several plans for safer schools after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary: It includes how to identify potential shooters, mental health care and support for law enforcement efforts — not adding guns to the classroom.

Friedel said she did vote no last year.

“I personally don’t want guns in our district,” she said.

However, she said she sees her role as IASB delegate to speak for the board and the district, so she will be talking to the other members of the Highland school board and listening to others’ opinions before making her choice for this year’s vote.

“There are some valid points on both sides,” she said. “There is passion. I get it. We’re scared. We can say what we might do if it happens, but ... I wish the world had an answer. It should not be up to us.”

The conference takes place later in November, with the vote expected Nov. 23, according to the Chicago Tribune.