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Why didn’t Unit 4 spend money on gun violence prevention?

The front of a brick school building with a large overhang and columns in front, and a cement walkway leading to the door.
Louise Knight-Gibson

Last week, The News-Gazette reported an update on the City of Champaign’s Community Gun Violence Prevention Blueprint. Included was a list of every organization and entity that received funding to help implement the initiatives laid out within the plan. That funding is coming from the $25 million granted to the city through the American Rescue Plan Act. The city set aside $6.2 million to address gun violence in the community, one of their top priorities for utilizing the ARPA funds. Organizations such as First Followers, DREAAM, and C-U Trauma and Resilience Initiative spent all or significant amounts of the money they received in this first year of the Blueprint on mentoring, housing, youth programming, and more. Unit 4 School District received $526,620 and spent nothing. Zero dollars. Not only is this disappointing, it is potentially dangerous.

Just one week before this data was published, shots were fired near Booker T. Washington (BTW) Elementary School around 3 p.m., just 30 minutes before school was dismissed for the day. It’s not the first time this has happened near a Unit 4 School. Two years ago, while students were returning from open lunch, there was a shooting just north of Centennial High School. In a separate incident, a Centennial student was murdered while sitting just outside International Prep Academy. All of these shootings have involved young people in our community, either as perpetrators or victims. In the most recent incident, police arrested five people. Four of them were between the ages of 15 and 18 and were believed to be involved in the actual shooting. The fifth was just 11 years old, and was instructed by the older kids to take a backpack filled with guns and ammo and run. According to the Urbana Police Department, the backpack contained: 

  • Two stolen Glock handguns, both of which were fully loaded and had bullets in their chambers
  • A drum pistol magazine, capable of holding 50 rounds
  • An additional handgun magazine
  • Almost 400 rounds

This is horrifying and sad, and brings us to the question: Why didn’t Unit 4 spend money on gun violence prevention? 

There are many wonderful organizations doing the hard work with the funding they are given to employ research-based strategies and programming to head off this issue at the root. But they can only do so much. Kids spend a majority of their hours in schools, and the work has to happen there, too. 

We are not suggesting that Unit 4 staff, teachers, and administrators aren’t working hard for students, because they are. But the district was handed a lot of money and a literal blueprint for addressing gun violence, which is deeply affecting students, and they did nothing. That is, as stated by Champaign City Council member (and Unit 4 parent) Vanna Pianfetti, “shameful.”

Superintendent Sheila Boozer offered a written statement to The News-Gazette, saying that in coming out of the pandemic “data revealed that the most pressing needs for a large majority of students included more academic and social and emotional support.”

More academic, social, and emotional support is indeed a pressing need. However, it’s important to note some of the specific items the city earmarked for Unit 4 to spend their allotted funding on, which is spelled out in more detail in the Blueprint document (emphasis ours):

  • Goal Getters, a program with “curriculum topics and activities that broaden horizons and improve social and emotional well-being of participants.”
  • A Parent Academy, the goals of which include “empowering families to support their student’s academic success, assisting parent/guardians in furthering their own education and developing new skills, and increasing engagement in their children’s academics and the larger community.”
  • Saturday Immersion and Extension, “designed to help 100-200 marginalized students to remediate academic gaps, expose students to new, cultural activities and provide time and space for unfinished learning in safe and nurturing environments.”

These are just the first three listed, but we think it’s clear what these examples show. The key to addressing gun violence in schools is rooted in the “academic and social and emotional support,” that we all agree is a priority. They were given over $500,000 to address the very things they want to focus on and did nothing with it.

What they did do is order more metal detectors to add a layer of security at the middle schools, even though there is not consistent data that metal detectors reduce gun violence. But there is evidence that the sorts of gun violence prevention initiatives that the Blueprint is funding reduce gun violence.

Even when no one has been “hurt” in a physical sense, as was the case in the shooting near BTW, the fear and trauma caused to students, school staff, and families is real. Watch the public comments (starting at the two hour mark) at the most recent school board meeting to get a taste of it. This issue affects everyone in the district, and in the community, particularly those students who have been directly involved as participants and victims. Schools are literally on the front lines. It’s quite a burden to bear, when we already ask so much of schools as a community and a society. This is an all hands on deck situation, and the school district must be a willing partner.

The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, Louise Knight-Gibson, Patrick Singer, and Serenity Stanton Orengo. 

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