Parents consider boycotting schools

By Madeline Keleher

Parents are considering a boycott of Champaign schools in response to the City Council’s 5-2 vote last week to instate armed police officers in Unit 4 District schools.

A total of five trained police officers, called school resource officers, are to be shared among the six schools in the district. While some parents and community members believe this will improve school safety, others are concerned that it will do more harm than good.

“My issue is that I don’t feel safe with my children going to school when the first thing they’re greeted by is an officer with a gun,” said Natalie Freeman, who is considering boycotting the schools by home schooling her children. “Even my kids have expressed concern.”

Urbana has had school resource officers for 12 years, and Champaign has had off-duty officers present in schools from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ever since a fight occurred in November, said Margie Skirvin, president of the school board and supporter of the school reserve officers program.

“Students and staff were hurt in that fight in November, and the administration had to lock down the school,” Skirvin said. “Kids can’t learn in an environment like that. How can they learn if they don’t feel safe?”

Freeman does not believe that police officers are going to solve the schools’ problems.

“The schools have our children eight hours a day, but there are kids in the eighth grade who are still reading only at a second grade level,” Freeman said. “How did the school let that happen? They’ve got the policy that no child gets left behind, but they’re leaving a lot of children behind.”

Marci Dodds, a city council member who voted against the school resource officers, has mixed feelings about the issue. She supports a strong police presence, but worries that just one policeman is not enough for such a complicated problem. She does not think a boycott would be an acceptable solution, however.

“I’m appalled (about the boycott),” Dodds said. “I think it’s terrible. It’s the adult equivalent of taking your ball and going home when you don’t get your way – except it’s far worse because of the impact it will have on the children.”

Dodds believes that lobbying for more services, creating better tutoring programs, and speaking to police and community leaders would be more constructive solutions than a boycott.

“As far as a boycott goes, I can’t think of an idea that would do less to build bridges or create a sense of community,” she said.

Freeman helped organize a community forum meeting at the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club, 201 E. Park St., to discuss other ways to deal with the issue of school resource officers Sunday evening.

More than 70 community members attended the forum. They discussed problems currently facing the Champaign school program and later broke into groups to brainstorm solutions.

“It might not come to a boycott,” said Duronne Walker, a research assistant at the University and one of the speakers at the forum. “We may be able to work with the school board, and we’re willing to do that.”

Lisa Causley, another speaker at the forum, urged parents to be involved in and aware of what is going on in the schools. She said churches, schools, the community, the government, and especially families have a responsibility to the children.

“The media has made it look like we’re trying to put all the accountability on the school – but we’re not,” Causley said.

Nevertheless, Causley, Walker and many of the community members present at the forum agreed that the schools are not providing the children with the education they need.

“The public school system is failing to do what it should be doing,” Walker said. “It’s a very ugly problem, and no one even wants to deal with it. But we have to deal with it.”