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Parents voice support for H-F administrators, others disagree as school board meets on security

After a social media threat of violence this past weekend and a meeting on possible student involvement in gang activity the previous weekend, the District 233 school board is holding a special meeting Tuesday, Oct. 30, to discuss security at Homewood-Flossmoor High School.
Because of the need to keep security procedures confidential, the board will move to closed session shortly after opening the meeting at 6 p.m. Topics for discussion will be school building safety and security and security procedures.
“Events like this are difficult, but they also provide us with opportunities to evaluate current systems and practices and to make improvements and adjustments based on new knowledge and feedback from stakeholders,” Superintendent Von Mansfield explained.  “We are thankful to our staff, students, families and community members who came together during this situation to share information, concern and offer assistance.”  
Opinions were decidedly mixed in response to a Saturday, Oct. 20, meeting with a select group of parents and students to discuss student behavior that could be interpreted as being gang related.
Some parents and community members have been anxious about the high school’s efforts, saying students are being singled out, and the way in which the meeting was called – telling parents their students would be “excluded” from H-F if they failed to attend – was unnecessary.

Others saw administrators’ initiatives as maintaining an open campus, but at the same time recognizing that outside influences can cause problems. Many came forward online and applauded school administrators for their outreach to parents and initiating action before serious acts occurred.

“Kudos to HF staff,” one wrote. “Better to curtail any intentional or unintentional gang activities sooner rather than later.”
Another wrote: “Excellent work on the part of the administration to address what appears to be the specific source (of) an issue instead of taking the easy way out by addressing the entire student body and hoping the problem will go away.”
Some parents who were called to the meeting felt differently.

Monica Gray, who attended the meeting with her freshman son, felt the meeting violated a student’s privacy protections. In her case, the materials presented by the district were her son’s personal record. It did not point to her son making hand gestures that could be interpreted as gang signs. As a parent of six children, Gray said she knows kids do things that adults take as offensive.

“I just feel that if you’re a child and you’re a goof ball, and you’re standing by the wrong person, you don’t absolve your rights. You’re still protected. That is my major issue,” Gray said.
She wished the district held individual meetings for the 60 students involved, or brought the topic before the entire student body. At the same time, Gray acknowledged that the school community needs to be aware of problems teachers and administrators are facing through disruptive behavior.
“I just feel the administrators are not adequately prepared to deal with this,” Gray said, noting it is “through no fault of their own. This is uncharted territory for everybody and a learning curve for everybody.”
Arthur Wiggins Jr., a critic of the administration’s handling of the Oct. 20 meeting, argued that H-F Principal Jerry Lee Anderson was wrong to make gang comments against students. “She’s bringing up an issue that really is not an issue in Homewood-Flossmoor,” he told the Chronicle. 
“I have an issue in the way this principal is handling an issue that she does not understand,” he said, arguing that “from the average person who’s been around gangs, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”
He received photos of his son, a senior at H-F, making hand signs. Wiggins admits what was shown can be construed as gang signs “but they’re for a Latin gang,” he said. The family is African-American. Wiggins said his son’s hand gestures are copied from a sports personality. 
As for students having fights at H-F, Wiggins admits he was involved in fights every year he attended Bloom High School. 
“I think it is of poor character to believe that you’re not going to have some type of altercation between boys who are going through the natural process of testosterone and every other chemical to get them to be agitated with one another.”
Wiggins said he is aware of parents who want to take action against the high school, and he is willing to join them, but his priority is running for mayor of Chicago Heights.  
“I feel horrible for all the mud-slinging about the H-F (high school) board. It makes me sad because I know some of them personally,” Rikki Faso told the Chronicle. She posted support online for the school’s actions and has an eighth grader who may attend H-F next year.
“I know how much time they put in and how dedicated they are. It makes me sad that they field such strong verbal criticism from the community,” Faso added. “For a community that usually wraps its arms around things that will make life better, it seems to not be in line and I don’t understand.”
The majority of online comments this past weekend thanked the administration for taking swift action to work with police to identify a student who threatened harm at the school. The 16-year-old student has since been arrested on a Class 4 disorderly conduct felony for threats of violence to a school. He told police he did so on a dare and didn’t have access to guns.

H-F has a security team in place. Retired and active police serve the school throughout the day and into the evening. School administrators regularly meet with police to review procedures and H-F administrators called on Flossmoor police as soon as the first threatening post went up on Saturday, Oct. 27.

The question some parents raised was whether school would be safe on Monday. Classes were conducted as scheduled.
The superintendent pointed to the social media threat as a reason attendance was down on Monday. For those who were at H-F, “our students and staff were supported by additional resources to ensure that everyone felt secure. In addition, the guidance counselors and social workers were there to provide additional support for our students who needed to further process the events of the weekend,” he said.   
“Lastly, we are grateful for the Flossmoor and Homewood Police Departments and the other local agencies for their efforts over the weekend and their extra presence on campus this week,” Mansfield said.
Note: Marilyn Thomas and Carole Sharwarko collaborated on this story.
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