FARMER CITY — The growing threat of gun violence in America’s classrooms brought more than 30 employees from Central Illinois school districts to Farmer City for a two-day course over the weekend aimed at better preparing them for the unthinkable.
A group that included teachers, bus drivers, administrators and school office workers dodged raindrops at a gun range Sunday afternoon for the firearms proficiency portion of the concealed carry class. Instructors Rick Noble and Dean Hazen, both retired police officers, offered the free training course to school employees.
Hudson elementary school teachers Julie Smith and Megan Cramer are still formulating their opinions on whether teachers should be armed but Saturday’s demonstration of a semi-automatic rifle similar to the weapons used in school shootings provided the audience with useful information, the Unit 5 teachers agreed.
Lamenting the need for such training, Smith said, “it’s one more thing that takes our focus away from teaching.”
Cramer, who teaches first graders, has also completed Mental Health First Aid for educators to expand her knowledge of the signs and symptoms of mental health issues.
“Playing ignorant is not an option,” said Cramer, noting the unfortunate reality that gun violence requires teachers to expand their knowledge of things they fear.
“We don’t get this at (teacher) institute days,” said Cramer.
Unit 5 and District 87 superintendents have joined the majority of school officials in Illinois and across the country who oppose concealed carry of weapons in the classroom.
Many of the CCW students declined to be quoted about their participation in the class, including one rural school superintendent who worried about how local residents might perceive school staff being in a weapons class.
In his comments on the legal aspects of concealed carry, Hazen told the class that firearms may be locked in vehicles parked in areas considered gun-free zones, including schools. Nuclear power plants and federal prisons are exceptions to that rule, he said.
Noble and Hazen did not urge the CCW students to violate the law by bringing guns into school but both support changes in Illinois law that would broaden the restriction.
The majority of the class was women, including several who were experienced shooters.
It was clear from comments during the classroom segment held at the American Legion Joe Williams Post 55 that teachers have developed their own strategies of how to protect themselves and their students.
The challenges posed by rural locations that sometimes are at least 10 minutes from law enforcement is a concern to school workers, said Noble.
Hazen said he hoped the course “instilled in them the confidence to take action” in a crisis and not be paralyzed by fear.
More training is needed, said Hazen, adding “this is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Weekend speakers included Champaign County Judge Roger B. Webber and Mike Walker, who is running unopposed in November to take over for retiring DeWitt County Sheriff Jared Shoffner.
All 31 students passed the target portion of the CCW course, with all but three students bringing their own weapons to the firing range.