|Rep. Bennett (left) and Superintendent Daniel Hollowell discuss
House Bill 1498 in the House State Government Administration Committee
State Representative Tom Bennett today advanced legislation in the Illinois House ensuring local school districts have the flexibility they need to thoroughly discuss measures to keep students and staff safe from threats of harm. House Bill 1498 won unanimous approval in the House State Government Administration Committee. A former educator, Rep. Bennett said it’s fitting that his first bill presented in committee is aimed at keeping students safe.
“It’s a very unfortunate reality today that schools need to have security measures in place, and specific plans to deal with threats of violence in their buildings. Keeping students and staff safe must be the only concern in these situations. My legislation simply clarifies that school boards may go into executive session to discuss security details if they feel that’s what they need to do to best ensure everyone’s safety,” Rep. Bennett said.
Representative Bennett stressed that his legislation simply clarifies an existing exemption under the Illinois Open Meetings Act. The Act includes 32 reasons why a public body may hold a closed meeting, including allowing for discussions of “security procedures and the use of personnel and equipment to respond to an actual, a threatened, or a reasonably potential danger to the safety of employees, students, staff, the public, or public property.” This exemption, as it applies to school boards, has however been legally interpreted by some to only allow for closed meetings to discuss actual, existing threats, not preventive planning. Daniel Hollowell, Superintendent of Bourbonnais Elementary School District 53, told committee members that clarification is critical.
“Our district recently conducted a thorough assessment of our buildings’ security, resulting in a 200 page report detailing our vulnerabilities as well as potential solutions. Having to discuss our specific vulnerabilities in public puts our students and staff at risk,” Superintendent Hollowell said.
House Bill 1498 clarifies the language in the Open Meetings Act to ensure school boards are permitted to discuss preventive security planning in closed meeting. Having cleared the State Government Administration Committee, it now advances to the floor for consideration by the full House of Representatives.