School boards vote ‘no’ on proposal to allow armed teachers in Illinois

CHICAGO — The Illinois Association of School Boards on Saturday rejected a controversial proposal that would have allowed teachers to be armed in schools.

The association held its annual meeting downtown at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, 151 E. Wacker Dr.

This year, members discussed one of the most heated topics in American life — how to protect students in the era of mass shootings.

The distressing scenes have played out hundreds of times, from Sandy Hook to Stoneman Douglas.

It was that massacre — which left 17 dead in Parkland, Florida — that motivated Dan Walther from Peoria’s school board to vote “yes” on a proposal that would have allowed teachers in Illinois to be armed. He cited response times of up to 30 minutes in some rural districts.

“School shootings take an average of 12 minutes,” he said. “I mean, there’s no way a resource officer could get there. So what we’re trying to do is give these small rural districts the option of doing this. Nobody is forced to do this.”

Saturday’s meeting drew protests from gun control advocates.

“They are talking about turning teachers into paramilitary law enforcement,” one protester said.

The measure split the state along its urban and rural fault lines.

“We’re closer — or as close to Birmingham, Alabama, as we are to Chicago,” said David Schwartz with Carterville’s school board.

Carterville is in southern Illinois, about 325 miles south of Chicago. Schwartz said he voted “yes,” citing geographical and cultural divisions between southern and northern parts of the state.

“Our folks, culturally, are not afraid of guns,” he said. “We’re afraid of bad people who can hurt our kids and our staff members, so we want to do everything we can to protect them.”

But after a debate, which was closed to cameras, the measure failed by a vote of 203 to 179.

“It was a vigorous debate,” said Thomas Bertrand, executive director of the Illinois Association of School Boards. “In the end, the delegates voted down the resolution.”

“I proudly voted against it,” said Elizabeth Garlovsky with Highland Park’s school district. She said an armed staff would make students feel less safe.

“A teacher with a gun is more likely to take a bullet versus shoot the gun,” Garlovsky said.

“I can tell you that your job as a teacher, as a school employee, as a school administrator, is to educate kids,” said Steve Paredes with Flossmoor’s school board. “It is not your role to suddenly be a law enforcement person. You don’t have that training.”

The American Federation of Teachers opposed the measure. President Donald Trump and the NRA have both voiced support for arming teachers.