'I don't believe we can be silent anymore': Dist. 113 board talks gun violence

 
 
Updated 8/11/2022 12:06 PM

Preparing to welcome teachers back to school on Aug. 15 and students two days later, Tuesday's Township High School District 113 board of education meeting was shaped in large part by the Independence Day shootings in Highland Park.

"It is still exciting to be starting school, it really is. Despite everything, it still is a great time of year," Superintendent Bruce Law said, reflective not only of the Fourth of July tragedy but also the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Board members noted that a July 19 meeting of the district's Equity and Inclusion Committee featured discussion of the shooting and the pandemic.

During public comment, a speaker named Ken McNeil stated he was a former school administrator and suggested a plan he believed could lead to legislation banning "assault weapons and large-capacity magazines."

Titled "11:32," the time the school shooting started in Uvalde, Texas, his plan was to have Highland Park students protest in class with 2 minutes of silence at that time of the morning, followed the next week by students in other high schools, then colleges.

"The idea here is to build a movement," the speaker said.

"We can do '11:32' or something like it, or in the alternative we can simply accept the fact that from time to time our kids and our teachers are going to get shot, and that some number of them are going to pay for our inaction with their very lives," he said.

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Revisiting a topic from the board's July 12 meeting concerning the district's goals for the 2022-23 school year, Law said the first priority is to "provide the support that students and staff need."

Toward that goal, on July 19 Law had sent the District 113 community a message about counseling services at Highland Park High School during morning and evening hours on Wednesdays from July 20 through Aug. 10.

In that message Law also said the City of Highland Park had established a Resource Navigation Center to serve people in Highland Park, Highwood and throughout Lake County. The center may be accessed at the city website,cityhpil.com.

The centerpiece of the meeting was a resolution, drafted by board Secretary Dan Struck, "Concerning Response to July 4th Mass Shooting."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Our position toward a lot of issues as a district changed after July 4," Struck said in introduction.

"We are now, unfortunately, among those many -- too many communities -- who have experienced this unnecessary awfulness. As a school district, what happened has an affect on our goals and our mission, our ability to educate and inspire children to do their best, our ability to provide a productive environment. That's all been impacted by the awfulness that happened," he said.

"We have a responsibility to say this can't continue like this. There are things that need to be done. Not just for us, for some nice suburban city ... but for the rest of the country, for all the towns that have been affected -- not just from mass gun violence but from the everyday gun violence that happens all throughout this country," Struck said.

In the resolution he had listed examples such as more than 300 mass shootings in the United States so far in 2022 and 2,000 school shootings since 1978. It stated, among many other things, that the district recognized state and federal regulation of firearm safety and control "are desperately needed and long overdue ..."

It resolved that the board supported many restrictions argued by gun control advocates. Among them the resolution cited stricter Firearms Owners Identification (FOID) card vetting, the repeal of manufacturer liability immunity, stronger background checks and lengthier waiting periods to purchase a gun, and state and federal bans on specific semi-automatic weapons, high-capacity magazines, and body armor outside of military or law enforcement.

The resolution opposed the arming of teachers and staff.

"There were a couple things that were stated in here, and I sit there and think, if this doesn't hit you that we have to do something, I don't know what does. The fact that gun violence is the number-one killer of children under 19 -- that's extraordinary," said board member and former board President Jody Shapira.

The board approved the resolution 7-0.

"I don't believe we can be silent anymore," Struck said. "This isn't something where we're overstepping our bounds and taking a political position. We're responding to what happened in this district -- what happened to our students and to our teachers."

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