CHAMPAIGN — Students milled around outside Champaign Central well after the first bell rang last Tuesday morning, many of them forming a line that wrapped around the renovated high school.
It was the first random day of metal detector wanding at Central. Because of the long wait, many students didn’t get inside until well into first period.
“I think it wasn’t conducted with military precision,” Parent Teacher Student Association board member Anita Ung said with a laugh, “so I think kids interested in milling around could delay their entry.”
After recent incidents involving students with guns and shots fired near Centennial High School, Unit 4 announced a slate of changes to its security procedures. Another round was announced Monday night, when school board members approved permanent metal detectors for its two high schools.
Between now and their installation, the wait times will improve, Unit 4 administrator Orlando Thomas said. At Centennial, he said, they already have.
On the second security check at Centennial last week, the school opened two entrances instead of one and had more staff and central office administrators present, Thomas said.
“That helped with the flow and the backlog of students,” Thomas said. “Each time that we do this, we debrief with the building administrators to address those very questions. ‘How can we expedite the process while maintaining the fidelity of the process?’
“There are over 1,400 students at (Central) and we checked the backpack of every single student.”
Thomas said he’s received positive feedback from parents and students regarding the security checks, which he calls a deterrent.
“We do think it has been very effective,” Thomas said. “(Parents) are very appreciative that there has been a very proactive approach on safety and security measures on their behalf.”
The fact that the checks have been random up to this point, of course, was meant to show students that they may happen at any time. When a student arrives within sight of the school, that element of surprise no longer exists.
Generally, Thomas said, no one outside of school administration has been told about the checks ahead of time, although an email was sent out to staff and families in the morning before Tuesday’s check at Central.
“The random checks create an issue because they are thrown at the students randomly so they don’t know to get there earlier,” said Karen Sharp, the mother of two Centennial students. “Previously, teachers weren’t even told they were wanding, so they had no idea why all their students were in late.”
Prior to Monday night’s meeting, Ung said the security checks may serve an unintended purpose for those clamoring for the everyday use of metal detectors. With 1,600 students at Centennial and 1,400 at Central walking through the doors every day, each with a backpack that needs to be checked, the process can only go so fast.
“I think maybe it helps people get a sense of reality,” Ung said. “(Members of the PTA) had asked about metal detectors, because you just think, ‘The library has book detectors, so you can do metal detectors’ … but I remember entering the courthouse (through the metal detector) and it took forever for people to enter.
“I can see the logistical challenge that that involved, but many parents had been calling for metal detectors, and I think now they can physically demonstrate the logistical challenges.”