Officials upset that students' protest left building

Officials upset that students' protest left building

CHAMPAIGN — Champaign schools Superintendent Judy Wiegand on Friday said the move by some students to take a demonstration outside Centennial High a day earlier was "very disturbing and upsetting" for school administrators and herself.

Students approached teachers and school leaders early Thursday about plans for a peaceful protest over the recent grand jury decisions not to indict police officers for the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York City.

Administrators wanted to support the students and provide a safe space for them to share their views, Wiegand said, but taking the protest outside the high school lobby and into the street Thursday afternoon was "not something planned with the administration at all."

Wiegand spent time Friday "debriefing" with district, Centennial and Central High School staff and Champaign police, following Thursday's demonstration.

The demonstration was planned to begin during the passing time between seventh and eighth periods and to last for 15 minutes to reflect the 11 times Eric Garner told New York police officers he couldn't breathe, and 4 minutes for the hours Michael Brown's body lay in the street after he was shot by Officer Darren Wilson. Many wore T-shirts and held signs asking, "Why do black lives matter?"

After participating in the "die-in" in the school's lobby and hallways, about 100 to 150 student demonstrators left the building and stood outside. Some of them walked into Crescent Drive in front of the school. As that occurred, a vehicle traveled through the crowd.

At least one of the students struck the vehicle's window and caused damage to the glass, according to police, who were called to the scene.

The district supports students' desire to express their opinions, but that space should be safe for all involved, Wiegand said. And the district's role, when it comes to education, is not to avoid controversial issues but allow for the exchange of ideas, provide a balanced presentation of the relevant points of view and a reasoned analysis of the issues, she said.

"When it comes to actual demonstrations and protests, would I like to see them outside the school day? Of course," she said.

Among the discussions Wiegand had Friday with police and other administrators was how students, "if they have the desire to do this again, the way it can be done in a peaceful, safe manner."

Calls to Centennial Principal Greg Johnson were not returned Friday.

Wiegand echoed a statement released by the Champaign Police Department, which stressed that any group wanting to hold a demonstration or protest contact the department "so they can make sure it's done in a way so it ends up not being disruptive."

Meanwhile, police have been busy interviewing witnesses and reviewing video footage of the incident. Police identified an 18-year-old male student who was responsible for damaging the vehicle as it drove through the crowd. The student was initially taken into custody for criminal damage to property and mob action.

However, after receiving additional information, police released the student, pending further investigation, according to a Champaign police news release Friday.

Police spokeswoman Rene Dunn declined to provide additional information beyond what was in the release, citing the pending investigation.

No injuries were reported.

Sections (2):News, Local

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Vav wrote on December 06, 2014 at 8:12 am

I look forward to additional reporting on the students that were made to feel threatened by the protests and had difficulty in moving between classes.

lga wrote on December 06, 2014 at 8:12 am

If a high school student feels threatened and terrified by a peaceful protest of 150 students (until a car plowed through), the parent of that student might want to reexamine his or her parenting practices. That student probably hasn't reallly been prepared for young adulthood if a small crowd is terrifying. Some perspective might help that family.

Citizen1 wrote on December 06, 2014 at 9:12 am

Wait a minute.  The kids in high school are age 14 to 18.  Some smaller, clearly younger than others.  To make the weaker, shy ones feel threatened, uncomfortable or threatened defines a bully.  No kid should be bullied in school.

lga wrote on December 06, 2014 at 10:12 am

How does protesting police brutality and the inequalities of the justice system become "bullying" of smaller students? That makes no sense whatsoever. The students were not going after other students. You are conflating two very different issues, which reveals your (and these "threatened" students) own biases and fears. 

Fear breeds fear and hate. That's a sad lens through which to view the world.

Citizen1 wrote on December 06, 2014 at 11:12 am

Protesting does't.  Disrupting school where teachers left classrooms in which students who did not wish to attend the protest and who were apparently offered no where else to go, were in essence forced to attend is threatening. Pounding in a car on the street and breaking a window is threatening.


The whole thing was out of control and one sided.  It was bullying by teachers and the violent students.

rsp wrote on December 06, 2014 at 12:12 pm

Students who didn't want to attend went to class. How is going to class threatening? Or bullying?

ForReal wrote on December 06, 2014 at 11:12 am

 I doubt any felt physically threatened, but do you think students that want to talk about the other side of the issue are going to feel comfortable doing so after they just watched 200 students visably demonstrate about the other side? That could surely feel intimidating to a 14 year old kid. 

Schools are for dialogue and learning - not for political demonstrations!

chumberley wrote on December 07, 2014 at 12:12 am

The students also just watched 1200 other students NOT participate.  Why would they feel intimidated when 85% of the school chose not to support that side?  Seems like the balance of acceptability is tipped in their favor.

rsp wrote on December 06, 2014 at 12:12 pm

The reports were that they felt threatened by the students lying on the floor in the hallway because they didn't know what was going on. They were not outside. Nobody forced them to go outside, they just went to their next class.

chief21 wrote on December 06, 2014 at 9:12 am

   " The districts role is to provide a balanced presentation" Thank can we expect the  Darren Wilson presentation? This could be a great teaching moment...why not have the class read the entire transcript of the Ferguson Grand Jury?

lyons wrote on December 06, 2014 at 9:12 am

Looks to me like the animals are running the zoo.

787 wrote on December 06, 2014 at 10:12 am

Nothing under the leadership of Weigand and Bonnett surprises me anymore.   They're both vrtually worthless as leaders.  If they don't end up ruining this school district for years to come, it'll be a miracle.

At least Arthur Culver had a clue as to what he was doing when he was here.

SaintClarence27 wrote on December 11, 2014 at 7:12 am

Maybe you want to consider the racial implications, and then re-choose your metaphor?

ForReal wrote on December 11, 2014 at 6:12 pm

If you think the "animals are running the zoo" is a racial slur, then you are a perfect example of political correctness run amok. It's a common metphor. Lighten up, Francis.

SaintClarence27 wrote on December 12, 2014 at 10:12 am

If you think that there are no racial implications (which is the term I used, not "slur), then you're clearly either racist or willfully daft.

ForReal wrote on December 06, 2014 at 11:12 am

Wiegand contradicts herself. She says she would like to see "protests occur outside the school day", but then goes on to say that they are trying to figure out how to students could do this again in a safe manner if they desire to. 

How about the admin simply says, "No. Protest on your own time." 

Schools should be about learning about and discussing the issues - not engaging in demonstrations. The school should not be in a position to determine what protests can and what protests won't be held. No issue should be protested during the school day. 

And it's amazing to me to think that the admin of Centennial didn't foresee that this had potential to get out of control by allowing the demonstration to occur. Simply amazing. 

loopillini wrote on December 06, 2014 at 1:12 pm

This "protesting" should not have been allowed during school time. It only leads to escalation when the students think they can do whatever they please...and we see this now with the car driver being attacked by an unruly mob on the street. Centennial has changed dramatically since I was a student there...Mrs. Storch would have hauled these "protesters" to class by their hair back then!

BruckJr wrote on December 06, 2014 at 4:12 pm

What seems missing from these articles is discussion of the discipline to be given to the school employees who encouraged this lawlessness. 

lga wrote on December 06, 2014 at 9:12 pm

"unruly mob"??? "lawlessness"??? You people need to get.a.grip. You can't make up scenarios and pretend facts because it fits your hyperbolic and fear-based narrative.

NOBODY WAS HURT. The only POTENTIAL for harm was when an adult chose to drive through a crowd. (What would your reaction be to this adult if she drove through a crowd walking to or from an Illini basketball or football game? Somehow it's ok because some young people with opinions are involved?? Why are they so scary to you? This driver is clearly the one who has some issues and a real lack of good judgement.) 

Get.a.grip. You might want to focus on the real problems that are going on in the country.

SaintClarence27 wrote on December 11, 2014 at 6:12 am

What lawlessness, exactly? Jaywalking?

alabaster jones 71 wrote on December 06, 2014 at 4:12 pm
Profile Picture

I would agree with the students that police overagression threatens people of all races in this country, and that blacks are especially vulnerable.  I support all the students who feel strongly about this, and want to protest.

That being said, it really would have been better for everyone if this had happened outside of school hours.

Teachers should know that if they organize or encourage protests like this during school hours, that there is going to be a lot of backlash towards them from some parents and community members.  They should also know that the situation could get out of hand.  Regardless of whether the driver had a right to feel intimidated or not, it's not OK that the students went out into the street.  Blocking traffic doesn't change anyone's mind.  If anything, it's just going to make those people who already resent you hate you more.

I also think it's kind of unprofessional for teachers to leave class to attend the protest, or to directly encourage students to protest and to tell them that you agree with them.  Teachers should encourage students to learn how to think critically, instead of explicitly telling them what they should think.

No video footage that I have seen posted on here conclusively shows that either the students or the driver were completely at fault in this incident.  Much like the Brown/Wilson case, there's probably a pretty good chance that both parties made questionable choices.  But, reflecting our angry and polarized culture, most people here claim to be an expert on exactly what happened between the driver and the students.  Just like nearly everyone on both sides of the Brown/Wilson debate claims they know exactly what happened between those two, despite not witnessing the shooting.

areader wrote on December 07, 2014 at 6:12 am

to chief21 - Are you kidding?

Bottom line-administration should not have allowed this to occur!