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H-F High administrators call on parents to address questionable student activities

Homewood-Flossmoor High School held a meeting Saturday, Oct. 20, that was meant to sound the alarm on questionable activities for a select group of H-F students and ask parents for assistance, said Principal Jerry Lee Anderson.
In an interview with the Chronicle, Anderson said incidents in the community and at school have people raising concerns about H-F students and thinking student actions are gang-related. For example, since school started staff has reported seven fights. Administrators felt they couldn’t continue to watch the situation and not take action. 
H-F has an enrollment of nearly 3,000 students. Parents of just 60 students, both male and female from all grade levels, were invited by letter to the Saturday meeting. About 50 parents with their H-F student attended one of three information sessions. Another 10 had private meetings with the principal Friday or Monday.
The letter said the school wanted to share information on the student’s actions that could be considered “gang activity.” The school is using a definition of gang activity from the student handbook that is “broader than what people think” generally when the term gang is used, Anderson said. 
It includes associations for not only criminal and disruptive activity, but actions prohibited by the district’s rules and regulations, including wearing clothing or jewelry and using signs or language that could be interpreted as gang related and soliciting others for membership in a gang.
The policy stipulates that H-F staff will take action to make students and parents aware of activities and “intervene whenever associated signs or behaviors are observed within the school environment.”
Anderson said the meeting was meant to make the parents aware and involved in their child’s activities. She opened the meeting by telling parents H-F “is here to make sure all students are safe” and that “fights and other behaviors need to stop.”
Each parent received a folder at the meeting with the student’s H-F record and photos taken from social media of the student flashing various hand signs that match signs listed in a Chicago Crime Commission primer on gang activities. She said some parents argued the photos were being misinterpreted. Anderson said if it’s questionable, she urges parents to talk to their child and get them to stop doing it.
The principal said while parents were looking at an individual record, the school was looking at the full record of 60 students who are having conflicts at school “and you have to wonder what’s going on and you have to at least ask the question.”
Anderson said when information from social media was put together, the administrative team was concerned by what they saw and she called the meeting.
“It’s all public and as I said to parents, if I can see it, so can everybody else,” she stressed, noting students often don’t realize that even when a post is deleted, it’s still stored somewhere online. 
“I don’t want our kids profiled. I want our kids to be here and getting a great education. We have hard-working parents. We live in a nice community. We have a great school. We don’t need the distraction,” she told the Chronicle.
Anderson said she apologized to families for what they termed the harshness of the invitation letter. Some interpreted the phrasing “failure to attend this meeting will cause your child to be excluded from H-F” as a threat. The principal said it wasn’t meant to be that, but it was meant to get their attention. She repeated the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child” saying: “I’m just trying to tell you what’s going on.”
By the end of the meeting, she heard a number of parents, holding the photos, asking their child: “What is this?” and “Why are you doing it?”
“We have a wonderful school. We have wonderful students. They are young people. They don’t always make decisions that we would make as adults,” she said. “The community has not disintegrated into bedlam.  Parents should have an opportunity to intercede on their student’s behalf. They should know up front.”

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