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Panelists discuss school safety, special education, pensions at D-41 legislative forum

GLEN ELLYN – The Glen Ellyn School District 41 PTA Council hosted a legislative forum on education issues in Illinois on Monday, focusing on a variety of topics including school safety, special education and pension funding.

Panelists included state Rep. Sandra Pihos of the 42nd District; state Sen. Kirk Dillard of the 24th District; Peg Agnos, executive director of the Legislative Education Network of DuPage County; Bob Ciserella, District 41 assistant superintendent of finance, facilities and operations; and Bill Enright, College of DuPage professor.

During the forum, Pihos and Dillard discussed education legislation that is being discussed on the state level.

Pihos said the first piece of Gov. Pat Quinn's school safety legislation was addressed by a House committee multiple times and passed by the House. That piece would require districts to work with law enforcement if possible on an action plan and safety drills for a shooter situation.

Another piece of legislation deals with speed limits outside a school building. The law would enforce school speed limits all day, every day when students are present, meaning weekend events and visits by students with their families would be included. Pihos said she opposed this particular legislation because signage and information about the new regulation would not be displayed near streets or included in the Illinois Rules of the Road before enforcement would begin.

Illinois is actually one of the strictest states when it comes to gun control laws, Dillard said. The state has some of the most stringent background checks for those seeking to own firearms, he said.

Dillard said an important part of school safety is mental health funding and issuing maximum sentences for gun crimes.

Another school safety-related bill that will be introduced to the Senate would require school boards to consult with law enforcement and security experts anytime they need to perform new construction, an addition or renovation of an area students will use, Agnos said. She expected the Senate would be addressing the bill sometime this week.

Some potential state legislation relating to special education includes shortening the amount of time between the development and implementation of an Individualized Education Program, Pihos said.

Legislation also passed the House that would make it easier for parents of students in special education to resolve issues locally with a school district without having to take legal action, Pihos said.

Both Pihos and Dillard expressed uncertainty about what the Illinois General Assembly will decide regarding pension funding.

"There are a lot of pension bills moving around," Pihos said. "If you put each part of all the pension proposals on the table, I think you could settle the issue."

But she said she wasn't sure whether state leaders want pension reform passed during this session.

The pension funding should be the top issue the General Assembly is dealing with, Dillard said, pointing to ways the pension liability has squeezed funding from other areas including nursing homes and hospitals.

"It's just mind-boggling to me that this is not done," Dillard said.

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