'Why is there no communication here?'

'Why is there no communication here?'

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URBANA — Jami Peterson found out Urbana High School was on lockdown midday Monday, when her daughter texted her, wondering what was happening outside.

A freshman inside the building, she knew her mother kept tabs on local events — like fires — on an app and thought she could tell her what had prompted the lockdown.

"I said, 'There's nothing here,'" Peterson said. "She said, 'What the heck is going on?' I told her, 'Your guess is as good as mine.'"

It wasn't until hours later that Urbana police confirmed the arrest of seven students and one adult after a series of fights in the school.

Police were dispatched to the high school following reports of fighting that sent biology teacher Gerasimoula Kokkosis to the hospital. She'd fallen and hit her head against a locker trying to break up a fight.

Kokkosis was released from a local hospital later in the day.

"The teacher that was injured — she was one of my favorite teachers, if I'm being honest," said senior Sophia Huff, adding that she'd gone from shocked to "livid" as the events unfolded. "When teachers sign up for the job, they're not supposed to be doing this. They're supposed to be teaching."

Seven of the arrests were juveniles; one was 35-year-old Adrian Pettis, who was charged with resisting/obstructing a peace officer. Charges for the juveniles ranged from mob action to resisting/obstructing.

Urbana police Lt. Rich Surles said an initial fight occurred outside the cafeteria. After it was broken up, things "bubbled over" into other fights. The exact number of students involved wasn't yet known, Surles said, but "I can confirm that there were a lot of people."

Surles said a motive for the fight is also currently unclear.

The severity of the situation led to Urbana police requesting and receiving backup from other law-enforcement agencies, including Champaign and University of Illinois police and Champaign County sheriff's deputies.

That a fight happened wasn't the shocker for Peterson, who said her daughter sees them daily. Nor was it a surprise for Huff.

"I think this one, because of the police presence, is more worrisome," Huff said. "Previously, you go through the hallway, you get stuck until it's broken up and then you get to your classroom."

Not all students knew why the building was on lockdown; Huff knew simply by chance.

She'd left P.E. class with a hand injury and was seeking an ice pack from the nurse. She didn't make it to the nurse's office before the fight broke out.

"The nurse obviously had more critical things to attend to," she said.

Because she'd seen the fight, Huff knew what the lockdown was about. But some of her friends texting her didn't, she said.

That was what bothered Peterson — the not knowing and the lack of communication from officials. How she could only repeat "your guess is as good as mine" to her daughter's questions. How the school email didn't mention the lockdown at all. How she didn't find out that students would be dismissed from the building as a result of the fights until shortly before the actual dismissal.

It was entirely the district's decision to end the day early, but Surles said officials had consulted police for their opinion.

"They are obviously handling the situation — why couldn't they call us first?" Peterson said. "Why is there no communication here?"

In an email sent to parents early Monday afternoon, high school Principal Deloris Brown wrote, "Due to the repeated altercations and incidents today, we will be releasing students for the remainder of the day at 1:25 p.m."

Calls and texts sent to parents to inform them of the early dismissal also did not mention why it was occurring.

"I want to give them the benefit of the doubt dealing with the safety of things at hand," said parent Dana Mancuso. "There needed to be additional information about who was affected by the incidents in order to alleviate concern."

Peterson said her daughter won't be the only member of the family showing up at the high school today.

"I need answers," she said. "As a parent, you wonder, 'What kind of fight is going to break out tomorrow? What kind of communication will we get tomorrow?'"

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