Local Moms Demand Action during the Oak Park July 4th parade last year.

Residents in Oak Park are calling on the elementary school district to commit to informing families about how to properly store firearms. 

Oak Park School District D97, however, isn’t budging. At least not yet. 

“We are probably already sharing information in the best way possible,” said Superintendent Ushma Shah. 

 D97 has no policy requiring that information is distributed directly from the district on safe firearm storage. However, Shah said, that does not mean they do not take firearm safety seriously. 

According to Shah, D97 works alongside community partners such as the Oak Park Police Department and the Oak Park Health Department, to ensure families receive that information. 

Information on safe firearm storage also has been shared through district outlets, such as their newsletter and social media platforms, said Shah, adding they also shared information on the free firearm lock giveaway held by the police and health departments in May. 

But for some local parents, that is not enough. 

Local Moms Demand Action member Jenna Leving Jacobson has been advocating for D97 to join the movement and pass a resolution pledging to provide safe gun storage information to district families. 

Jacobson, a district parent of two children, presented a petition to the board of education during their school board meeting in early August. The petition, which had 378 signatures, demanded the district “use their uniquely influential position with parents and families, to share life-saving information about secure gun storage.”

Despite nearly two years advocating for this change to occur, Jacobson said the district has not taken action. 

“This is a public education campaign,” Jacobson said. “This isn’t legislative advocacy; this is just sharing information.” 

The push for schools to be part of the conversation also stems from the role they have played providing essential public health information since the beginning of the pandemic as many districts related important information on COVID, including active cases in the schools, directly to families. 

“We became used to getting public health information from the schools,” Jacobson said. “There was a new attunes to health and safety. It feels like people are more likely to read their emails from the schools, to listen to the schools, and to be connected to the schools.” 

A new state law that went into effect in January permits school boards and other boards in charge of educational institutions supported by the state of Illinois to provide safety education such as safe gun storage. 

In the bill, “safety education” means and includes safety in the home, including safe gun storage. 

 Other topics include safety in and around school buildings, safety in connection with recreational activities, and CPR information for students in middle school. According to Everytown, a nonprofit that advocates for gun safety and against gun violence, safe storage includes storing guns unloaded, locked, and separate from ammunition.

It’s not clear which districts near Oak Park have passed such resolutions or are considering them. However, a River Forest District 90 representative said they do not have such a policy.

But the issue is not unique to Illinois. School boards across the country are adopting resolutions as advocates press them to distribute information to families about how to safely store their firearms. While many school boards across the country voluntarily pass such resolutions, others are seeing new laws mandate their participation. For example, districts in California have no choice this year but to do so after lawmakers required that all local educational agencies communicate safe firearm storage to students, families, and communities through a required annual parental notification. 

Sobering statistics

According to Moms Demand Action’s website, a grassroots movement working toward measures that protect people from gun violence, most school shootings occur after firearms are taken from their home or a relative’s home. 

Research backs that up. According to a 2019 analysis by the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center called Protecting America’s Schools, 41 incidents of targeted school violence in K-12 schools reviewed from 2008 to 2017 showed that “most attackers used firearms, and firearms were most often acquired from home.” The assessment also said most of the firearms were kept unsecured. In other situations, the attacker gained access to the secure firearm usually kept in a safe or case. 

According to the Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit led by families whose loved ones were killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in 2012, an estimated 4.6 million American children live in a home where at least one gun is kept loaded and unlocked. 

Here at home, in June 2022, a six-year-old boy in Forest Park shot off his finger after accidentally discharging his uncle’s gun, which was stored in a bag in the closet. 

In Oak Park, an OPRF student was charged with a Class 3 felony for possession of a weapon on school grounds and a Class 4 felony for aggravated use of a weapon after he was found with a loaded handgun on school grounds in May 2022. 

“We feel so helpless with gun violence,” Jacobson said. “It is a crisis out of control in this country. There is so much that needs to be done that it is hard to feel empowered to get it done when you are just a mom. Arming ourselves and our community with information feels empowering to me.” 

During the public comment portion of the August board meeting, Jacobson addressed the board. 

“This community wants you to do all you can to keep our kids and their educators safe,” Jacobson said. “It is quite baffling that you wouldn’t do all you can to prevent kids from gaining access to guns, whether to bring them to our schools, or harm themselves or someone else at home.” 

But whether D97 will send information from their own accord to families is up to the board of education, Shah said.  

Board of Education President Gavin Kearney told Wednesday Journal the board is committed to sharing the information but they are looking into what would be the most effective channel of communication. 

“I do think it’s something to consider,” Kearney said, adding however, that for it to be a resolution they vote on, the board would need to research what appropriate wording would be. 

 “One thing is to make it as specific as you can without making it too specific.” 

Kearney added that it was important for D97 to clarify that just because they don’t “memorialize” their pledge to share information, that does not mean they aren’t doing their part. 

“Some folks think that because we don’t have a policy that we don’t share information or are against sharing information,” Kearney said once again stressing the district’s support of safe firearm storage.