PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — The recent series of violence and disruptions at Peoria Public Schools is sparking desperate pleas for solutions.
The most notorious incident being a brawl last Friday at Peoria High School, which resulted in police intervention and two adults and seven students being arrested.
One week later, District 150 leaders invited parents, students, community members, and area leaders to a two-hour town hall hoping to get to the root of the problem.
A packed house of curious and concerned attendees at the district’s administration building Friday night led to a deep discussion on potential causes, possible solutions, and critical predictions if nothing changes.
“We have to help our children, we have to turn this around,” Shar’Ron Washington Ford, building monitor at Manual High School, said. “I cry at my desk because I see where the students are headed, and I know that there’s something that we can do to help them, and we’re not doing it.”
Those in attendance said while it’s easy to point fingers on this issue, the overall responsibility falls on the shoulders of everyone.
“We have failed as a community,” Michael Riley, president of Alpha Phi Alpha, Kappa Pi Lambda Chapter in Peoria, said. “This isn’t a school district’s problem, it’s not a school board’s problem, it’s a community problem.”
Now, the community is on the search for answers.
Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat, Superintendent at Peoria Public Schools, said what we think affects how we feel and determines how we act.
“Let’s all remember that love changes the brain,” Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat, Superintendent at Peoria Public Schools, said.
Kim Thomas, a teacher at Glen Oak Community Learning Center, said love gives consequences, and she feels like that’s missing in the schools.
“Kids are going to push and push, I was a kid who did that,” Thomas said. “I pushed and pushed, didn’t follow the rules until all of a sudden I had a consequence that hit me, and I was like, Now, I’ve got to start following the rules.”
In the mix of different speakers stepping to the podium during the public comment portion, some of the more popular suggestions were consequences and accountability.
“We have to hold the kids accountable, we have to hold the parents accountable, we have to hold the students accountable,” Corine Williams, a parent in the district, said. “You do need suspensions, you do need that because if we don’t stop it now the justice system will later.”
Other suggestions included alternative schools, sensory rooms for students to calm down, parent-involved programs, training for nonviolent conflict resolution, and mentorship programs.
Some parents mentioned a lack of after-school programs could be an issue, but others in attendance such as Spanky Edwards with the Tri-County Urban League said there’s no shortage of after-school programs, but there’s a lack of participation.
“They do not have enough participants in sports, basketball, we have them in STEM, we have a huge shortage of participation,” Edwards said. “The Urban League now has TSTA that’s running every day from 3 to 8 p.m. We even have a career based-G.E.D. program.”
Some community members mentioned a good course of action would be finding ways to connect students with these after-school programs who aren’t aware they exist.
Gregory Wilson, Peoria Public School Board president, said the next step is for the school board to revisit the potential solutions and figure out how to best implement them.
“I want to continue these town hall meetings. I want to have an open forum from the community to the school board,” Wilson said.