Security check results in long lines outside Central

Students at Champaign Central High School got introduced to the inconvenience of added security last week. Parents were sent an email at 7:30 a.m. that said all students had to enter through the Combes Gym foyer doors off Lynn Street and be screened by a metal detector. Parents were warned that students might miss part of their first-period classes. District families were told in September of the possibility of random checks to ‘reinforce safety in our school buildings.’ Said spokeswoman Stacey Moore: ‘This is part of the efforts the district is using to ensure the safety and security of our students and staff.’

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CHAMPAIGN — In its continued push for school safety, the Champaign Unit 4 district has created, and will soon fill, a new position: head of security.

School board members are scheduled to vote Monday night on the appointment of a director of security and school safety, according to an item on the meeting agenda posted Friday.

In the agenda, the district describes the appointment as its next measure to ensure the safety and security of students, staff and families “with the recent increase in violence in our community.”

“As an additional step, the District has recently created, and posted for, a Director of Security and School Safety position,” the item went on to say. “This position will ultimately be responsible for any safety and security staff that are either District employees or outside contractors.”

Neither the individual’s name nor contract details were included in the packet of board materials made public Friday.

The district is also poised to award contracts on Monday to its third-party security firm and metal-detector provider after the school board approved both at its Oct. 25 meeting.

The district will pay $947,240 to install and maintain eight dual-lane wireless metal detectors from Evolv Technology for four years in its high schools, according to the contract.

“Depending upon the needs at the middle schools, these systems could be relocated to those sites as well,” district officials wrote. “A touchless security detection system would replace the random manual ‘wanding’ of students and staff.”

A shooting near Centennial High School and host of social-media threats during one of the more violent years in recent Champaign history prompted the district to raise its security measures early in the semester.

Last week, a string of fights and a gun scare sent Central High School into an hourlong lockdown.

AGB Investigative Services, a Chicago-based security vendor with a 95 percent minority workforce, will be paid $559,224 by the district to serve out the rest of the school year — a near-$17,500 weekly charge through June 30, 2022.

“There is an option to renew at the weekly rate for the 2022-23 school year if needed,” the agenda item states. “The District will utilize available Local, State and Federal resources to pay for the contract.”

Next semester, two to three officers from the firm will be working at each of the high schools, Chief Communications Officer Stacey Moore told The News-Gazette on Friday.

After the Champaign Police Department and the district announced the one-year suspension of the school resource officer program, the district hired AGB to provide security officers to patrol school halls on a temporary basis. The company won out in an open bidding process for the rest of the school year.

According to both police and the school district, there have been no new discussions for renewing school resource officers next school year.

The program, in which five Champaign officers worked in each of the district’s middle and high schools, was called into question last year, being mentioned in the school’s anti-racism resolution.

The school board approved an expenditure in April to bring back the officers, but the police department informed the district in July that there weren’t enough available officers to sustain it.

“We’ve tried to be good partners with the city while they’ve experienced the officer-hiring shortages, so we pivoted and hired our own security,” school board President Amy Armstrong told The News-Gazette this week. “We look forward to the time when the city lets us know when they have capacity.”

Champaign police spokesman Tom Yelich said there isn’t a new update on the program, since “not much has changed since the summer” regarding staffing.

The department is authorized to hire 125 officers; about 100 are working now, according to Sgt. Matt Crane, who oversees officer training and development.

In the last two years, 28 officers have left the department — most for retirement — while two others have died, one from cancer and another who was killed in the line of duty.

Ethan Simmons is a reporter at The News-Gazette covering the University of Illinois. His email is esimmons@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@ethancsimmons).

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