DECATUR, Ill. (WAND) – Decatur Public School students are back for the semester. In less than a month, the police were repeatedly called to high schools and colleges in the district for violent clashes.
“The start of the school year is always our toughest time of the year,” chef Shane Brandel told WAND News.
In at least one fight at MacArthur and Eisenhower high schools, school resource officers (SROs) had to use mace to control a crowd of students.
“If they don’t take preventive or defensive measures, before they make physical contact, what you’re basically asking them to do is physically fight minors,” Chief Brandel explained. .
Chief Brandel said that while ORS never wants to use pepper spray on students, it can be the quickest and safest way to break up a big fight.
“Because if we let him go on, somebody’s gonna get hurt. Because the officer can’t handle 6 people at once,” Chief Brandel added.
Parents told WAND News that the violence is already taking away students who are there to learn.
“My daughter is also trying to get an education here. So if they have to have all these fights disrupting everything and spraying pepper spray, my daughter is not getting a real education through all of this,” Kali Jones, a Decatur mom, explained. Jones has students at Eisenhower High School and Stephen Decatur College.
Superintendent Dr. Rochelle Clark said that’s why her staff are taking action.
“We are here not only to learn, but also to have a good time learning. But at the same time, when you have children who are going to disrupt the learning environment, they are going to be treated accordingly,” explained the Dr Clark. .
She said students involved in fights were disciplined. They also hold intervention meetings with families before a student returns to school.
“If we suspend a student, for whatever reason, they come back with their parents and we have that reset moment, that conversation. Because they have to understand that we’re going to have to fire you if it’s egregious enough,” added Dr Clark.
She said she hoped these early interventions and police action would prevent the fighting from getting worse. But she is also preparing in case things do not work out.
“I’m hoping things will change, but I’m also starting conversations about next steps, because you always have to be prepared,” Dr. Clark said.
Jones and other parents told WAND News they want to see the ISBE give districts more flexibility in suspending and expelling problem students.
“They’re just like ‘ok slap on the wrist, I’ll be back tomorrow to do it again’. And they don’t care what they interrupt because they’re the kind of kids who aren’t there for a education,” Jones explained.
Dr. Clark and Chief Brandel are now asking the parents to step in and help.
“The police have a role to play, the district has a role to play and parents have a role to play. When are we going to ask parents to be parents?” Chief Brandel said.
“We talk to children about expectations – can parents please reinforce them? Because together is the only way to change that,” Dr Clark added.
Dr. Clark said she was not ready to share any next steps the district might take, but was expected to make an announcement soon.
WAND News will continue to follow this developing story.
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