BLOOMINGTON — Putting guns in the hands of trained teachers is not the way to eradicate school shootings, according to Central Illinois administrators.
"I don't believe arming educators is the answer to preventing school violence. It would create an atmosphere of militarization in public spaces," said Karl Goeke, president of the Unit Five Education Association that represents teachers in the Normal-based district.
A day after an emotional meeting with survivors of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, President Trump tweeted the notion that "highly-trained teachers" could carry guns as a deterrent to school attackers.
Additionally, Trump said he would endorse strengthening background checks, banning "bump stock" style devices and raising the minimum age to 21 for buying certain rifles.
"If a potential 'sicko shooter' knows that a school has a large number of very weapons talented teachers (and others) who will be instantly shooting, the sicko will NEVER attack that school. Cowards won't go there...problem solved. Must be offensive, defense alone won't work!" Trump tweeted.
He theorized that 20 percent of teachers with “military or special training experience” could carry concealed weapons in school buildings.
“A handful of teachers might welcome that, but I would suspect the majority would feel very uncomfortable," said Barry Reilly, Bloomington District 87 superintendent.
Unit 5 teachers carrying guns is "not what we signed up for," added Goeke.
“We became teachers because we want students to learn and grow, not so we can become trained in the use of arms to be used against, potentially, children,” he added.
Unit 5 Superintendent Mark Daniel said he is "adamantly opposed" to the idea.
"A teacher is an educator and we don't want to take steps to bring guns into our schools. What we need to do is get to the root of the problem as to why these shootings have happened," he said.
At Clinton School District, Superintendent Curt Nettles said Trump’s comment of arming “highly-trained teachers” is unclear.
“Currently, I don’t believe it’s a good idea to arm teachers. If I can get a well-constructed plan of what a well-trained staff member would mean, I may be willing to have second thoughts about that,” said Nettles.
In speaking with law enforcement who have training in mass shooting incidents, Nettles said he doesn’t see how “a teacher or principal could be trained in a way they could emotionally handle a situation like that.”
School funds should be spent on social workers, counselors, mental health and smaller class sizes, said Suzanne Kreps, president of the Decatur Education Association.
"We can't afford the basics now. Teachers don't have the necessities they need in the classroom and we can't afford the costs to train and arm us,” said Kreps.
All school officials said the preventative focus should be on building stronger relationships with students. Each district has an armed school resource officer at each high school and some at the lower-grade buildings.
“We need to stop repeating history and tackle the school shooting epidemic head on, but arming our teachers is not the answer. Our teachers and support staff members did not sign up to carry guns,” Illinois Education Association President Kathi Griffin said in a statement.
Griffin said the IEA has developed a free lesson plan called "Know Me Know My Name" which schools can use to help identify students who "end up committing these senseless acts of violence.”
The program is available at www.ieanea.org/resources/know-me.
Valerie Wells of the Herald & Review in Decatur contributed to this story.