DuPage County

Gun violence the topic of League of Women Voters Forum in Glen Ellyn

A community forum presented by two DuPage-area League of Women Voters chapters will tackle what has unfortunately become an all too familiar story in the U.S.

Titled “Preventing Gun Violence Through A Community of Care,” the free event is set for 7 p.m. Thursday at Hadley Junior High School, 240 Hawthorne Blvd., Glen Ellyn.

Members of the League of Women Voters of Glen Ellyn and the League of Women Voters of Downers Grove, Woodridge, Lisle are partnering to host the forum. For them, the recent mass shooting at Highland Park’s Fourth of July parade, which left seven people dead and dozens wounded, hit close to home.

“We have colleagues who were set to march in the parade just minutes before this happened,” said Sarah Allen, co-president of the Glen Ellyn league. “You want to think that the place where the public can gather and celebrate democracy and history and citizenry would be at a Fourth of July parade.”

The nonpartisan League of Women Voters organization encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy.

“We hold candidate forums and community meetings throughout the year on topics that are particularly timely and critical and that are facing not only voters but our community,” Allen said.

Several individuals are slated to speak during Thursday’s event, including Andres Acosta, a high school social worker and private practice counselor who will focus on how everyone plays a role in preventing gun violence.

A panel discussion will include superintendents from each Downers Grove and Glen Ellyn school district: Melissa Kaczkowski, Glen Ellyn School District 41; Emily Tammaru, Community Consolidated School District 89; David Larson, Glenbard Township High School District 87; Hank Thiele, Community High School District 99; and Kevin Russell, Downers Grove Grade School District 58. A Q&A session will follow the panel discussion.

The superintendents, who will give updates on what the schools are doing to prevent gun violence, said they are more than happy to participate.

“This is an important topic because ensuring the safety of students and staff is the highest priority for any school district and the community it serves,” Russell said. “This event will allow community members to learn about safety measures in place at local schools and will also open up a discussion as to how community members can support school safety as this is a school and community issue.”

He said safety is District 58′s top priority.

“Schools are an integral part of the community and our students need to be protected. Everyone should follow the practice of ‘if you see something, say something,’” Russell said. “Families should actively monitor their child’s phone and social media accounts. Everyone should sit down with their child and have a conversation about what it takes to keep us all safe and report any warning signs to the school and/or police department.

“Families should also stress to their child it is never OK to make a threat against anyone or the school. There have been far too many instances across Illinois and the country where students make threats online or in person. This trend needs to be addressed and stopped.”

Thiele said it is essential that parents and community members are united in their approach to safety and security.

“Keeping our students, staff and visitors safe at District 99 is our top priority. In addition to our secured facilities, emergency response systems, safety drills and strong relationships with our police department, we know that the people in and around our schools are an essential resource for ensuring safety,” Thiele said. “People who are at risk often show signs or signals before an act of violence happens. We stress to everyone that if you see something, say something.”

Additionally, Thiele said District 99 has extensive support systems in place at all of its schools for students in crisis or facing life challenges.

“Including care not only from their teachers but also from counselors, psychologists, social workers and a student assistance coordinator,” he said. “We encourage parents to reach out to us at any time they are concerned.”

Larson said he greatly appreciates the leagues hosting the event.

“And I encourage anyone in the community who is interested in learning about gun violence and prevention to attend. Everyone can help prevent problems through caring, advocacy and kindness,” Larson said.

Some of the precautions and safety measures taken in District 87 to ensure a safe learning environment include working closely with local law enforcement, having a school resource officer at each campus, conducting safety drills with students and staff, coordinating with security staff to increase supervision of each campus, and requiring all visitors to check in with security, Larson said.

“Parents/guardians can have a significant impact by talking with their children about their emotions, their day, and their goals,” Larson said. “Kids need their parents to listen to their story and coach or teach when they face adversity. Be their biggest support and listen. The community coming together in events like this is so important: supporting each other, talking to each other and supporting the existence of agencies and organizations that provide mental health care. Our staff, particularly our counselors and social workers, partner with the community to support students in need.”

For more information about the forum, visit https://www.lwvge.org. Registration is not necessary.