Teachers who attended a March for Our Lives rally Saturday afternoon in Crystal Lake said they feel fear, sadness and anger over issues around school safety and shootings.
One teacher, Lauren Brundage, said she just wants to focus on teaching instead of training to defend against an active shooter.
“I teach arts and crafts and sing songs,” said Brundage, a kindergarten teacher at Woods Creek Elementary School. “I don’t want to be trained in this. Arming teachers is ridiculous. How do they think we have time or ability to want or train or function in a situation like that?”
A lockdown drill is one of the first things that new kindergartners do at Woods Creek once school starts, Brundage said, which she said mostly is about teaching kids to hide in a corner and be quiet.
Brundage said it took an enormous emotional toll to mentally map out how they might have to approach such a situation.
“I don’t want to kids to think this is a game,” Brundage said. “It’s not a game. It’s not fun. It’s not funny. The torture that this could put someone through isn’t what anybody who went into education thought they would have to consider.”
Jessica Gregory, another teacher in Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47 and the parent of three kids, said it was stressful for her to discuss the situation with her students and with her own children, warning them of the real danger while offering assurances at the same time.
“How do you talk to kids about the real possibility that a shooting could happen at their school?” Gregory said. “Without having them be afraid of going to school everyday?”
Gregory also dismissed the idea of arming teachers, which is gaining traction in some quarters. For instance, Ohio lawmakers in late May sent a bill to that state’s governor that would allow local boards of education to decide whether teachers can carry firearms in the classroom.
“So on top of what we already have to do or are asked to do, then to say, ‘Let’s put guns in the classroom with kids?’” Gregory said. “With untrained people? That’s just asking for more gun violence to happen.”
The rally at the intersection of Route 14 and Exchange Drive, drew between 70 and 100 people between 1 and 3 p.m. It comes after a number of recent shootings, most notably the tragedy at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, during which 19 students and two teachers were killed.
It was one of several rallies across the country and the suburbs, including in St. Charles, Palatine and Downers Grove.
Older students, and their parents, said they feel no safer.
Julia Doak, who will be a freshman at Crystal Lake Central High School, said although she and her friends don’t talk much about the shootings, it still was on their minds.
“It’s really sad and heartbreaking,” Doak said of the shootings. “I don’t know how I feel about active shooter drills. It’s important to be prepared, but I don’t think that this should be as normal as it is.”
Doak said since Uvalde, she’s been having nightmares about school shootings.
Her parents, Owen and Betty Doak, said they felt Crystal Lake and McHenry were no less immune to a school shooter incident than anywhere else in America. Betty Doak described gun safety reforms as “the least controversial issue ever” and that the support they saw for such measures at the rally was “insane.” To her, it makes federal inaction even more frustrating.
In addition to community members such as teachers, parents and students, and local officials who showed up to the rally, it also drew office-seekers, including U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, who seeks reelection in the redrawn 11th Congressional District that includes portions of Crystal Lake.
“I think it’s important people have their voices heard on this,” Foster said. “People want universal background checks, closing internet gun purchase loopholes. It’s supported by enormous majorities of Americans, and yet Congress is unable to act.”
McHenry County Assessor Mary Mahady, who was also at the rally, decried “misinformation” about gun reform and the deadly nature of assault weapons.
“We don’t want anyone to die,” Mahady said, “whether it’s in a grocery store, a movie theater, in a church or in a school.”
However, local officials in attendance said there was limited action they could take.
McHenry County Board member Michael Vijuk, D-Cary, lamented that at the county level, most action around gun ownership would be mostly symbolic.
In reference to Second Amendment appeals to block gun safety laws, Mahady made a joking suggestion that she’d give everyone a musket, based off the kind of weaponry available when the the Constitution was written in 1787.
The protest was jointly organized by Standing Up Against Racism Woodstock, the McHenry County chapter of the National Organization for Women, and Together We Stand McHenry.
“We decided to meet the moment,” said Eva Baker, one of the lead organizers for Standing Up Against Racism Woodstock. “Lawmakers need to start representing the interests of the people rather than the NRA. We are tired of teachers and children being at risk at school.”
Baker accused politicians who invoked Second Amendment rights to prevent reforming gun laws as “taking blood money” and “being in the pockets of the NRA.”
The event’s organizers were hoping to see “common sense gun laws” enacted, Baker said, such as assault weapons bans and red flag laws, which allow people to petition a state court to remove weapons from the possession of someone deemed a possible danger to themselves or others.
Another organizer, Dee Darling, who is a district chairwoman for the McHenry County Democratic Party, said it was time to stop associating mass shootings with mental illness.
“We need to get rid of the stigma around mental illness,” Darling said. “It’s not fair to millions of people in this country who suffer from mental illness to associate these killings with them. It just makes it harder for people to come forward or get treatment.”
According to EducationWeek’s School Shootings Tracker, there have been 27 incidences of shootings at schools so far in 2022, and 119 since 2018, during which 27 people, including children, have been killed, and another 56 injured.
McHenry County Board member John Collins, D-Crystal Lake, agreed that teachers shouldn’t have to bear the responsibility of addressing gun violence or even contending with active shooter situations at all.
“I have a son that is a police officer; I’m worried about him every day,” Collins said. “I have a son in the Marine Corps, and I worry about him every day. I have a daughter who is a schoolteacher. I should not have to worry about this, but I’m worrying about her more now than I worry about my son as a police officer.”