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Legislation would emphasize social workers over school resource officers

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DIXON – A bill sitting in the Illinois Senate would put a greater emphasis on having psychologists in schools rather than school resource officers, and a local legislator is saying that today’s shooting at Dixon High School reinforced his vote against it.

House Bill 4208, filed by Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Westchester, would establish the Safe Schools and Health Learning Environment Program, which would provide competitive grant funding for districts aiming to reduce their reliance on law enforcement.

In its initial incarnation, the legislation more or less asked districts to replace resource officers with social workers and mental health professionals, but language was taken out that encouraged schools to phase out armed resource officers.

The bill passed the House late last month with 64 votes, but state Rep. Tom Demmer wasn’t one of them.

Demmer, R-Dixon, said he voted against the measure because of the positive track record the school resource officer program has in Dixon as well as the relationship with the Dixon Police Department and other local law enforcement.

“Having trained law enforcement is valuable on a typical day, and it’s priceless on days like this,” he said.

DHS school resource officer Mark Dallas chased and shot Matt Milby in the shoulder this morning after the 19-year-old student opened fire in the school gym, which was filled with about 150 seniors rehearsing for graduation.

“I’m eternally grateful for the school resource officer’s clarity of thinking and ability to spring into action and react in a dire situation,” Demmer said.

If the bill passes, in order to get special grant funding, districts would need to hire restorative justice practitioners, school psychologists, social workers and other mental or behavioral health specialists.Grant funds could not be used to increase the use of school-based law enforcement or security personnel.

Sycamore Police Chief Jim Winters is a member of a legislative committee that’s battled a bill previously geared to replace SROs with social workers.

“We want social workers just as much as the schools do, but we don’t want it to be an either-or situation,” Winters said, adding that the Illinois Police Chiefs Association was initially opposed to the bill, but has shifted its stance to neutral since another amendment was made.

The change removed language stating that the General Assembly recognizes that the use of school-based law enforcement has not been proven effective as a strategy to promote safe and productive schools.

“Today’s incident in Dixon was a perfect example of why we want to have SROs at the school,” Winters said. “Not only is there a safety element with SROs, but they also are at the core of community policing.”

The bill passed the Senate education committee a week ago, and an amendment on the bill was referred to assignments today.