Local school districts in Illinois will now have the flexibility they need to thoroughly discuss
measures to keep students and staff safe from threats of harm, thanks to a new law spearheaded by State Representative Tom Bennett (R-Gibson City). House Bill 1498 signed Monday by Governor Rauner ensures school boards can go into closed session to discuss sensitive school security planning information.
“This is about keeping students and staff safe,” Representative Bennett said. “Unfortunately, it has become an absolute necessity for schools to have specific plans in place to deal with violence or threats of violence in their buildings. This new law, suggested by local school boards, makes it clear 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.”
According to Representative Bennett, the Illinois Open Meetings 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 existing threats, not preventive planning.
“A local superintendent came to me with concerns that his board may be forced to discuss a comprehensive report on their buildings’ security, including details of where they are vulnerable, in open, public session. Obviously, having to talk about specific vulnerabilities in public could put students at risk,” Representative Bennett said.
The new law clarifies the language in the Open Meetings Act to ensure school boards are permitted to discuss preventive security planning in closed meeting to help ensure everyone’s safety.