Shooting incident near Champaign elementary school leads to security upgrade

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CHAMPAIGN — After getting an earful from school staff about the district’s response to a frightening shooting last month outside Booker T. Washington STEM Academy, Unit 4 Superintendent Shelia Boozer unveiled several security upgrades, with the possibility of others still to come.

The biggest change: Between 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. every day school is in session, a “floating security guard” — district security/safety director Jeremy Canales and/or security/safety manager Shane McPheron — will patrol the elementary school grounds, Boozer said.

This has already begun, Boozer said, and will ramp back up when students return Monday from fall break.

The district is also looking into the costs of installing a fence outside the East Grove Street school and relocating or adding to the playground, she said, as well as “thinking about the possibility of bullet-resistant windows.”

On-site security cameras also will be enhanced, Boozer added, saying: “We want people to know if you are around this area, on our property, we will capture you on video.”

Five youths were arrested in connection with the incident, which occurred at 2:50 p.m. on a Thursday last month while BTW students were outdoors. Police recovered two guns, several magazines and almost 400 bullets.

At a meeting last month, several distraught BTW teachers addressed school board members and district administrators, expressing their fear at what happened and criticizing Unit 4 leaders who failed to show up at the school that day or offer emotional support.

In response, Boozer and officials from partnering agencies laid out changes during a follow-up meeting with BTW staff. Here’s what else was included in a written security upgrade plan shared with BTW families and The News-Gazette:

Urbana police will patrol areas near the school, including the Hamilton on the Park complex. “This includes walking and spending time in targeted areas and neighborhoods.”The Champaign Park District will assign park ambassadors to patrol the area between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and allow BTW to reserve the Douglass Park Pavilion from 11 to 1:30 “to eliminate loitering and inappropriate activity.”Ambassadors from the city of Champaign’s Neighborhood Services Department will patrol BTW from 2-3:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays “to assist with after-school dismissal.”“When available,” Champaign police will assign extra patrols “to support during arrival, lunch and dismissal.”

In a related announcement, Boozer said she’s been told that, based on current projections, the Champaign police department plans to hire two school resource officers for 2024-25. The program has been on hiatus due to low staffing levels since the fall of 2021.

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