CHAMPAIGN – Champaign school Superintendent Arthur Culver says he usually isn't given to public displays of emotion.
But he was shouting Tuesday night as he spoke to the Champaign City Council about the need for a school resource officer program in Champaign middle and high schools.
"Our students and our staff, they deserve the right to feel safe," said Culver. "I feel it is imperative you support us."
More than 50 people attended the meeting, many of them strongly opposed to having uniformed, armed police in the district schools.
The superintendent won the backing of the city council, which voted 6-2 to support the officer program.
The program will cost the city $1.06 million over the next three years and $643,000 for the school district. The school board voted 5-2 Monday to support the program.
The officers, who will receive specialized training, will start this fall. They will work out of Central and Centennial high schools, Columbia Center alternative program and Franklin, Edison and Jefferson middle schools.
The officers will be charged with maintaining a safe environment in the schools, preventing criminal activity, establishing positive relationships with students and providing education about the law.
After the meeting, Culver said he has seen school resource officers make a difference in safety in many places during his 27-year education career.
"When people see how this works out in its implementation, I think we'll have overwhelming support," he said. "I think they'll say 'I'm so glad the Champaign school board and the city council moved forward with this.'"
A Nov. 4 melee at Champaign Central High School that slightly injured several faculty and staff members prompted the district's focus on security. The district started employing off-duty police officers on Nov. 14 to patrol the high schools.
Mayor Jerry Schweighart and council members Tom Bruno, Vic McIntosh, Ken Pirok, Mike La Due and Gina Jackson also supported the police program. Giraldo Rosales and Marci Dodds were opposed.
Pirok said something needs to be done to reduce violence in schools, which he said is causing families to flee to other communities even though they support diversity.
"Families who I consider to be very reasonable who live in Champaign are worried about their kids' safety in the schools and are considering moving out of the community," he said.
Pirok also said he had received telephone calls from teachers asking him to support the program.
"They begged me to support this," he said, warning that the district could start to lose qualified teachers if steps aren't taken to increase school safety.
Dodds said she felt the school resource officer program was not comprehensive enough to prevent violence in schools, and that she was "deeply troubled" by the lack of an integrated approach that would include after-school programs and intervention by mental health counselors.
Rosales questioned the $1.6 million cost of the program and said school resource officers should be tried "as a last resort." He also said the district had failed to provide enough statistics and information to show a need for the program.
There was extensive public comment.
Natalie Freeman and Nicole Causley, whose children attend Champaign schools, said they opposed the use of officers and were supporting a boycott of schools by students "to ensure that our voices will be heard."
Freeman read from a prepared statement saying that "we are asking churches to open their doors to accommodate those children while they are out of school. We need educators, parents, friends and families to donate their time to tutor and educate our children."
Causley said her son, a sophomore at Central, had been treated roughly by a city police officer at the high school on Nov. 16 while walking in the hallway.
She said the officer also called her son "boy," which she said has negative racial connotations.