Education leaders want all schools to comply with safety protocols

The Illinois Education Association is pushing for stronger safety protocols to keep everyone in...
The Illinois Education Association is pushing for stronger safety protocols to keep everyone in schools safe.(Mike Miletich)
Published: Dec. 15, 2021 at 4:56 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WGEM) - With the school shooting at Oxford High School near Detroit, Mich., two weeks ago still fresh in the minds of many teachers and parents, some wonder what school officials might have missed leading up to the tragedy.

The Illinois Education Association stated members across the state continue to report violence in their schools. Now, the organization is pushing for school leaders to follow proper safety protocols.

Gov. JB Pritzker signed a bill into law in 2019 requiring all schools to identify staff for threat assessment teams and create a procedure to handle threats by February 2020. IEA President Kathi Griffin is working with a bipartisan group of state lawmakers to craft a bill to track schools that aren’t complying with that law.

Griffin says Illinois school administrators who don’t have a plan in place must act now to keep their students, staff, and school communities safe.

“We are hearing of fights, we are hearing attacks in high schools,” Griffin said Wednesday. “And it is exacerbated this year much more than we have ever seen in the past.”

Griffin also reminded school leaders they can use money from the Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief Fund to hire counselors and social workers, but the ESSER funding can’t be used to buy metal detectors for schools.

The state doesn’t know how many districts follow the school threat assessment law right now. Despite that, Rep. Fred Crespo (D-Hoffman Estates) and Rep. Tony McCombie (R-Savanna) say school districts must step up and follow the mandate.

They plan to file language soon for a trailer bill to ensure the state can monitor and enforce the law. Crespo said school leaders need to understand they’re on the hook when it comes to safety.

“If they see the signs and they ignore the signs and a tragedy does happen, the school district, the principal, the administration should be held accountable for that,” Crespo said. “So if that doesn’t work, I’m not sure what else would make sure they do what they’re supposed to do.”

Griffin said schools need proper services to address the mental health needs of students who may turn to violence. The 2019 law allows schools to use the one-cent county sales tax to cover costs for school resource officers, mental health professionals, or other safety improvements.

“Today, the threat assessment plan is checked every four years basically through a compliance audit with the Regional Office of Education and Illinois State Board of Education,” McCombie said. “The school boards have to review these threat assessments annually. We want the threat assessment to be going annually with the members of the team to the ROEs and ISBE. So, there will be more accountability.”

McCombie said she would also like to see those reports filed with local law enforcement. She explained police could work with school leaders to determine the best way to handle violent situations.

Crespo also said the legislation shouldn’t feel punitive for schools. He said leaders just want to keep everyone safe by identifying threats early.

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