O’Fallon student weighs in on arming teachers
O'Fallon District 90 School Board member Steve Springer is aiming to have state law changed when it comes to teachers being able to carry firearms in school.
But his shot at enlisting others board members missed recently. At the District 90 Board of Education meeting April 17, Springer introduced a resolution that is being pushed for across the state by the concealed-carry advocacy group, IllinoisCarry.
The resolution was to show support for the General Assembly passing a law to allow teachers to carry guns in school. It asks that local school boards be given the authority to make the decision whether or not to arm teachers.
"The resolution itself does not call for arming teachers ... It does not demand that anyone be armed. That's local decision-making," said Springer, who has been on the District 90 board for nine years.
Currently, state law permits only police to carry weapons in educational settings.
Several local schools have dealt with school threats recently. District 90 has dealt with two in recent weeks — one at Hinchcliffe Elementary School in March and another at Carriel Junior High on April 20.
Following those incidents, Springer said he heard increased concern from the community about school safety. Then, a friend presented him with a student safety resolution from IllinoisCarry.
The resolution is all about school security and the well-being of students and staff, Springer said.
However, other board members recoiled from it. Springer's motion died for lack of second with no ensuing discussion.
"It was disappointing," Springer said. "After I presented the resolution, the board was unusually quiet."
Jason Boone, District 90 board member, later told the Progress that he didn't want to discuss it at the time.
"If I wanted to discuss it, I would’ve seconded it," he said.
Boone said he did not second the motion as an "intentional procedural move" to allow "more time to research the resolution first and have teachers weigh in" before making a decision with the board.
"I am a huge Second Amendment supporter and a supporter of open and concealed carry, but I do not want teachers carrying in school, and now it's very clear to me from talking to the teachers that they are not interested in carrying guns in schools," Boone said.
Matt Lloyd, a District 90 board member, told the Progress later that he's "not opposed or for" the resolution, but did not want to vote on it that night because he wanted more time to understand the resolution.
Around 150 teachers were at the meeting due to their displeasure with current contract negotiations.
While there for contractor matters, Ray Roskos, the local field service director of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, took the opportunity to speak out against the resolution, calling it "politically motivated" and saying such policy "has no place in our schools."
"Instead of arming teachers with guns, we should arm staff with resources such as training, supplies and reimbursements for the thousands of dollars they spend in the classrooms each year and arm them with a living wage increase so they can support their families," Roskos told the Progress.
Spending years as a military commander gives Lloyd a unique perspective on risk assessment, he said.
"When we're talking about close quarters within a building, I mean that's what it is — it's combat. I tend to think you need more than a CCW and a couple classes. Police are trained to do this, and every morning when that police officer straps on his Kevlar and his holster he is fully trained and mentally prepared that he may have to draw his weapon and the consequences that come from that and I'm not sure that's what I want my teacher's thinking about when they go into the classroom. I want them mentally prepared to teach," Lloyd said.
He went on, "I don't see it as a Second Amendment issue, and I'm not questioning CCW rights; I just don't know that I want guns walking into the building everyday."
John Wagnon, District 90 board president, said he thinks his district is already taking strides toward better safety.
"I think the overall safety and security issue absolutely needs to be discussed, and we need to talk about options to make schools safe and secure and make our kids safe and all that. And we have taken some fairly significant steps in the last few months to do a lot of actions toward that end," Wagnon said.
A multiphase improvement plan has been initiated by the board "to bolster the safety and security of our students and our facilities," Wagon said. Though the entire plan could take years to fully complete, phase one has already been approved. Initial measures will include architectural design and security key card updates, possibly hiring additional personnel and changing policies and procedures, Wagnon said.
Student safety is at the top of Becky Drury's list, another District 90 board member. While she wouldn't comment on the resolution specifically, she later told the Progress that former O'Fallon Police Captain Mark Berry, now the district's director of security, "was hired for this issue" of student security in 2016.
"We are currently looking to make all our buildings secure. District 90 has a great working relationship with the O’Fallon Police Department. I feel we are heading in the right direction to protect staff and students," Drury said.
Rebecca Huller, another District 90 board member, also wouldn't comment on the resolution, but similarly echoed themes of student safety through building security measures.
Other districts to consider resolution
Meanwhile, the push continues elsewhere to allow teachers to be armed.
Districts in Hamilton and Gallatin counties in deep Southern Illinois and one in Warren County in the northwestern part of the state have approved IllinoisCarry's resolution, said Valinda Rowe, the group's spokesperson.
Other local districts could take it up, too. Springer sent the resolution to the O'Fallon Township High School 203, O'Fallon Central 104 and Shiloh 85 school boards to consider.
Central 104 and OTHS 203 have yet to make a decision if the resolution will appear on a future meeting agenda.
"(Springer) provided the resolution to me after our draft agenda had been set for April. It may be on an agenda for a future meeting," said District 203 Superintendent Darcy Benway. The OTHS board meets again May 17.
Claire Wilcox, 18, an OTHS senior who was at the forefront of the student-led March For Our Lives O’Fallon chapter protest with classmates, said she is opposed to putting guns into the hands of her teachers at school.
"Any kind of exposure to gun violence will manifest adverse reactions in children. Whether that is direct bodily harm or just seeing or hearing gunshots, it is going to induce anxiety and depression. And it’s not going to make our students feel safe, which is very important in our schools for our students to learn and develop," Wilcox said. "The reality is that arming teachers is going to increase the chances of exposure to gun violence."
Wilcox is no stranger to understanding the legislative process, as she, along with a peer through a Gateway Region YMCA Youth and Government program, spent months penning, and then proposed a legislative bill to put restrictions on convicted felons running for state office. The bill made its way through the Illinois House, but not the Senate in March.
Central 104 Superintendent Dawn Elser said she plans to discuss it with her board president when the two meet May 10 about the agenda for the May 14 meeting.
"With the resolution dying in District 90, the board president may decide that we no longer want to put it on the agenda," Elser said.
Shiloh 85 plans to consider the resolution on May 21, Superintendent Dale Sauer said.
"We will take it up in the policy committee the next time they meet and share with the board as whole following that. Then the board will decide their disposition as to any potential action," Sauer said.
District 90 could reconsider
The measure could also be back for a future District 90 meeting. In the time since his resolution failed, Springer said that two other board members, whom he declined to name, showed interest in bringing the resolution back before the board.
"If that were to happen, I would like to see it very soon, as the intent is to have it presented to the Illinois Association of School Boards fall conference in November. The submission date for resolutions is near at hand," Springer said.
But, that remains to be seen.
"I am not personally making an additional effort to pursue the resolution, but all of the board members, including myself, and the superintendent have received communications from members of the community calling for a special board meeting for the express purpose of discussing/debating the resolution," Springer said.
Considering the recent District 90 school threats that have occurred, "this is may be the most pressing issue we face is protecting our kids, no argument, but the discussion is what is the best method to carry out that protection? If someone wants to put it back on the agenda, I'm more than willing to have the discussion," Lloyd said.
Wagnon said he agrees that student safety and security is paramount, however, calling a special meeting to discuss Springer's resolution is not.
"I don't know that this is an issue that must be discussed and must be resolved before our regular May board meeting. So I think I'm happy to put it back on the agenda for the May 16 agenda, but I don't see the need to call a special meeting for it," Wagnon said.
So far, no one has asked for it to be put back on the agenda, Wagnon said.
"But that doesn't mean that won't still happen, because we still have plenty of time before the May board meeting. And any one board member could contact me at any one time ask me to, and I would totally do it."
Boone said, "I look forward to it being on the agenda in the future and a discussion."
Lloyd said, while board members are the ones casting the votes, "we owe it to them. So I hope to hear more from the community. I hope parents and people for or against, or however you feel, I hope people get involved and contact us — it's difficult making a decision in a vacuum."
District 90 board member Mary Baskett did not return requests for comment.