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PPS Board Approves Security Firearm Policy, COVID Testing Regimen

Emily Bollinger/WCBU

Peoria Public Schools will replace city police officers with armed school security at the high school level.
The board voted 5-2 Monday night to allow trained school security officers to carry firearms at Richwoods, Manual, Peoria Central, and Woodruff Career and Technical Center. Board members Martha Ross and Lynne Costic dissented.

The move will save the district $200,000 in annual contracting expenses, said Superintendent Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat.

Board President Doug Shaw voted in favor of arming security officers.

"I'm not a gun advocate, but just in the unlikely event that someone enters one of our buildings with the intent to do harm, I want them to be able to respond to that threat without hesitation," Shaw said.

Ross said she's worried the insurance costs to the district of arming its employees would outweigh the contracting costs for police officers. She also had a philosophical opposition to the concept.

"I personally don't like guns in the school," Ross said. "It seems to carry the wrong message."

Ross also said she was concerned only two school security officers are currently certified to carry a firearm.

Board member Dan Walther said the school security officers will receive the same firearms training that Peoria police undergo.

PPS worked out the plan in conjunction with State's Attorney Jodi Hoos after a court disbanded the district's police department five years ago.

COVID-19 testing update

The board also approved a COVID-19 rapid testing regimen to expedite the return to in-person learning for high school students.

The board unanimously approved the agreement with Reditus Labs in Pekin. Desmoulin-Kherat said the plan is to start with about 300 high school students a day. A testing plan for staff will come afterwards.

"We're flying the plane and building it at the same time," Kherat said. "But there's some things that we do know. We want everyone to be tested regularly, including the staff. We want everyone to be tested."

Kherat said the ultimate goal is to randomly test students about twice a week. She also said it's "not a problem" for the district to post regular COVID-19 statistics on its website.

COVID Committee Chairman Josh Collins said the district plans to implement the plan at each high school. The Wraparound Center at Trewyn School also may soon host a COVID-19 testing site for students and families.

"Any students that are attending in-person, there is an expectation that they submit to the COVID-19 testing," said Collins, ading those who wish to opt out can present their cases to the district's COVID committee.

The testing is funded by a $200,000 dollar donation from the Gilmore Foundation, and a matching donation from Reditus CEO Aaron Rossi. The district believes rapid testing will cut down on quarantine times, allowing students to return to class faster.

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