Centennial students, parents look for answers after gun incidents, threats

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CHAMPAIGN — After Centennial High School students received a stream of threats last Wednesday evening and throughout Thursday, senior Emily Hancock got a text from friends asking if she’d heard about the bomb threat posted to social media.

“I was in my class, and I let my teacher know, and she didn’t know anything about it,” Hancock said Monday outside Unit 4’s Mellon Building, where around a dozen students and several parents gathered before the school board meeting.

The social media threats led to about half of the Centennial student body staying home on Thursday, when students received personalized messages that identified what individuals were wearing, Hancock and others said.

But after issues with lockdowns in recent weeks, including a public address system that didn’t work in certain classrooms, Hancock felt like she had a responsibility to go to school on Thursday.

“I didn’t want what was going on to disrupt my education,” Hancock said. "But at the same time, because I have been someone who has been informing teachers, I wanted to be there if something were to happen, to inform everyone what was going on.

"Unfortunately, it feels like my responsibility to keep everyone informed of what is going on all the time, and that is not a responsibility that should be placed on students.”

Students and parents gathered before Monday’s meeting to discuss changes they’d like to see in the wake of to recent lockdowns, sparked by weapons in school, shots fired in a field north of the building and last week’s social media threats.

Parents and students who gathered outside the Mellon Building on Monday asked Unit 4 for better communication in crisis situations — from both the school and the district — and for better mental health resources for students.

They also raised concerns with the new security guards hired by the district this year — from a private firm due to Champaign Police’s staffing shortage — who they described as confrontational and unprofessional.

Unit 4 Superintendent Shelia Boozer addressed some of those concerns during Monday’s meeting:

— The PA issue, she said, concerned an older system communicating with a newer one, and the problem has been fixed.

— The district is also rolling out a system in which it can send out alerts via text.

— Boozer also addressed the underlying issues that lead to violence in the district’s schools.

“We are going to host various trauma-informed workshops with a lens on healing, and that is something that I’ve been seeing for the last couple of months since I moved here,” said Boozer, who succeeded the retired Susan Zola as superintendent in July. "There is a lot of healing that needs to take place in this community.

"I can’t undo anything that’s happened in the community, as much as I wish I could, but I’m in charge of making sure that Unit 4 has an opportunity to heal.”

Boozer said she’ll address those issues by organizing student roundtables and has already identified students she wants as a part of such discussions. She also said she’d like to put together a parent advisory committee, specifically giving a voice to “parents whose voices are traditionally marginalized,” and who are most impacted by violence in the community.

“I need to put the power where the pain is,” she said. “A lot of students are in some serious pain right now, and I want to make sure I capture their voices.”

Monday’s meeting also included a presentation from the Illinois Balanced and Restorative Justice network, which discussed the process of introducing restorative practices in the district, a tenet of Unit 4’s 2020 strategic plan.

As she stood outside the Mellon Building on Monday, Centennial senior Ellison Radek spoke about the need for accessible mental health resources for students, along with the need for community-building.

Radek went to school on Friday, when she said she was among only five or six students in most of her classes, and she caught a glimpse of what she’d like to see going forward.

“We did community building, we played games, and I think that’s what our school needs to see,” Radek said. “We’re not really addressing any of the issues that are happening, we’re just pushing them down and pretending like they’re not there.

"I think we need to talk to them and give students spaces to open up and actually have adequate mental health in our schools.”

via The News-Gazette

October 2, 2021 at 08:50AM

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