This article is the second in a six-part series that addresses concerns five Mahomet-Seymour High Schoool students have about their environment at school. During an interview about school safety, these students discussed a multitude of issues that, they believe, lead to an unhealthy learning environment. These students come from different backgrounds and grades. To protect their identity, their names have been replaced with numbers. The Mahomet Daily shared all articles with district administration and gave 20 hours for comments. No comments were received.
Tragedies often get people talking.
For a little while, at least.
But Mahomet-Seymour high school students don’t want the conversation about school safety to end after the ALICE assembly they had the week of Feb. 19, five days after 17 people were murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“(The threat of a school shooting) felt a lot more real after Florida,” Student 1 said. “I think that happens with all the mass shootings. Every time there is one, it surges up, and then it just goes away as people stop talking about it.”
On the heels of a social media threat towards Mahomet-Seymour High School that was deemed non-credible at the end of January, the school administration partnered with the Mahomet Police Department to talk to students about school safety during the third week of February.
The school safety powerpoint presentation was also shown to approximately 30 parents at the second Bulldog Dialogue meeting on Feb. 20 at the Middletown Prairie Elementary cafeteria.
By mandate, schools are required to conduct fire drills, a storm safety drill and a bus evacuation drill each school year. Schools are also required to hold a law enforcement participation drill to address a school shooting incident.
Unlike the fire, storm safety and bus drills, students do not have to be present for the law enforcement drill.
While some school districts include students in an active shooter drill, Mahomet-Seymour Superintendent Lindsey Hall said, “Here I don’t believe students have been in the building when that has been done.”
Students were happy that the administration hosted the school safety assembly because, according to one student, “it got us thinking,” but they also said it was the first time since elementary school that the topic had been discussed with them.
Two students, who transferred into the M-S district, said they were surprised that the district didn’t prepare students with the type of training they received at their prior school district.
“At my old school, we used to actually do drills where all the windows would be covered, the teacher would lock the door and barricade it, and we’d hide in the corner. But I’ve never done that at this school,” Student 3 said.
“My school was even safer than this one,” Student 3 continued. “It was a sheltered community, so I was surprised we didn’t do it here.”
“At the last school I went to, we did it twice a year because the area we were in was kind of messy. But even still, we were more prepared than we are now,” Student 4 said.
New research on the best practice for survival during a school shooting has changed the way students are being told to respond.
Instead of just blockading their classroom with desks and hiding in a corner, students are told to run-hide-fight: to run to a safe place and help others out if a safe path is available, lock and barricade the door while also silencing cell phones if the shooter is nearby or fight the attacker aggressively, using whatever means are available.
During the assembly, students were taught about the acronym ALICE, which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate.
At the Bulldog Dialogue meeting, Assistant Principal Nathan Mills told parents that he stressed to students school safety is everyone’s responsibility: students, teachers and administrators.
“It gives individual options to react to the situation,” Mills said. “And in these instances, the No. 1 priority is survival.”
He told students that if at any time they believe something is not right, they should go to a teacher, administrator or directly to the Mahomet Police Department.
“We’re all in this together,” Mills said.
Students say that prior to the assembly, and even after the meeting, the high school had not discussed or conducted an ALICE drill with students on campus during their time at Mahomet-Seymour.
“I was a little frustrated with (the presentation) because it was a lot of repeating the same thing,” Student 5 said.
“They just kept repeating, ‘you’re the first line of defense,’” Student 3 said.
In the event of a school shooting at Mahomet-Seymour, teachers will announce the location of the shooter so that students and staff in other classrooms can prepare their course of action.
Students were told that they might have to barricade the classroom with desks and hide or run. They were given direction to go to Our Lady of the Lake Church if they leave the school.
Students are also concerned about the safety of their teachers, who are supposed to call throughout the school on the telephones located right next to the door, and the safety of their peers, who have emotional or physical disabilities.
“There is a boy in my class and whenever I talk to him, it takes him a couple minutes to process what I’ve said to him,” Student 4 said. “And then a couple more minutes for him to process how he’s going to respond back to me.”
“So if there is a bunch of screaming going on, and everyone is like, ‘hide, get down,’ he’s not going to know how to respond fast enough.”
Even with the information, students continue to feel unprepared for what they are to do next.
Student 5 still feels uncomfortable, asking what do I do in between the time of the intrusion and getting to Our Lady of the Lake? “Do I keep running?”
“What I took from the whole presentation is, it’s completely situational; we don’t know what is going to happen,” Student 1 said. “A lot of what they were telling us is, ‘it depends.’ They said we might have to run. They said we might have to hide. It just depends.”
Several students asked questions of the presenters.
Student 4 asked about what the district would do if they were warned about a student who had mental health issues. The question was based on information that Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the FBI were warned in advance about the Parkland, FL gunman’s mental health and stability.
After the question was repeated by another student in the crowd, Student 4 felt like the concern wasn’t heard.
“I felt like I was 5 again, and I said something to an adult, and they just overlooked it because it wasn’t meaningful,” the student said.
Student 1 felt the same way after bringing up the nationally planned student walk-out on March 14.
“I said I was protesting haphazard gun legislation,” Student 1 said. “Obviously, there is a real mental health problem as well that needs to be addressed. But in terms of actually getting stuff done, gun legislation is the first, obvious, practical step. And it’s been a cycle of school shooting, forget, school shooting, forget, school shooting, forget for the last 20 years.”
Student 1 said the presenters “just kind of looked (at the student).”
“He (the administrator) just skipped over it,” Student 3 said.
Now, these students want their voices heard at more than a local level.
They want action on both the local and federal level. The students not only want the federal government to review the processes and procedures that lead up to gun ownership, but they also want their concerns and ideas to fall on open ears.
“I heard that the Parkland school was in a really sheltered community, extremely safe,” Student 3 said. “So I feel like it could definitely happen here.”
“I think (the social media threat) made it more real for me about (a) shooting,” Student 5 said. “Just how easy it could happen in Mahomet. Before we didn’t really think about it as much, it’s just school and stress, the day-to-day things, and then a mass shooting happens, and it’s like that could happen here.”
Rattled, not only from the Parkland shooting, but also from a local social media post a few weeks earlier, Mahomet-Seymour students went back to their classrooms to share some of their ideas with their teachers and peers after the ALICE presentation.
“Something I was looking at (is) schools that are safer, their windows aren’t as long as ours in the classroom, so maybe we can, I mean I wish we had more money so that we could fix that,” Student 2 said.
“But instead we spent (money) on flooring we didn’t need,” Student 4 said.
Student 3 would also like schools to figure out how to have a fire alarm that might distinguish between emergencies after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas student pulled the fire alarm to get students to flee their classrooms.
“(Principal Shannon Cheek) was super open and he was like please come back anytime you want because I love hearing your ideas, and I want to know what we can improve on. He was super open and I respect that so much,” Student 4 said.
Student 4 is interested in the “JustinKase” door barricade that was invented by a high school student to protect students in the event of a shooting.
The device, made of steel plates and connecting rods, is placed under a classroom door where it latches to the door jamb. Tested by the strength of high school football players, the barricade has kept the door closed under all circumstances.
But Student 4 said students in the classroom after the assembly were interested in talking about metal detectors in the school as a way to ensure their immediate safety.
“We understand that they will have to have people man them if we do get them, but the school spends money on ridiculous things so there’s no way we’re ever going to be able to get things like that that we need,” Student 4 said. “Instead (we get) different light posts outside the parking lots even though the ones we had before were fine.”
Sometimes safety measures come attached with a stigma, though.
“There is a stigma to having metal detectors at your doorway,” Student 1 said. “Mahomet is definitely not going to go against that.”
Student 2 was in a sociology class which watched a video that showed a study about how the presence of metal detectors didn’t help people feel safe.
“It just makes students feel unsafe,” Student 1 said. “Every morning having to go through those; I’d feel like ‘oh my goodness, this is so scary’ every day.
“But it’s not the determining factor of safeness of your environment,” Student 1 said. “It just makes you aware of it.”
During the assembly, school officials also talked to students about letting their peers in through one of the 20 doors at the high school that is not the front entrance.
After the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, where 20 children between 6 and 7 years old and six adult staff members were killed, the Mahomet-Seymour School District installed a buzz-in system that only allowed outside access through one door in the front of the school.
Students at Mahomet-Seymour High School have been known to open other doors from the inside to let a peer in through one of the side doors, through the fieldhouse or the band room.
“A lot of kids come through the side doors,” Student 3 said. “Mostly in the morning, but sporadically throughout the day. And specifically the side door (near) the bio room.”
“The back door to the back locker rooms are always open during football and wrestling season. So anybody can come through whenever,” Student 1 said.
“I’m guilty of that,” Student 2 said. “After the assembly, though, I’m definitely not doing that. I’m coming through the main entrance because I respect that.”
At the Bulldog Dialogue meeting, Mills said that there are cameras on all the doors, and when notified, administrators watch the feed to identify the students who are breaking the rules.
Students believed that if everyone used the front door, it would cut down on the likelihood of a threat coming into the school.
Another safety measure that the school district installed in the older buildings two years ago was changing all of the classroom locks to locks on the inside of the classroom. This way an outside person could not enter a room without the teacher opening the door.
While classrooms throughout the district are required to keep their doors closed except during passing periods, students said that many M-S high school classrooms leave their doors open throughout the day.
Students said a few teachers leave their doors open because they don’t want to ask a student to open the door every time a visitor or student comes to class, but they also said the many teachers have to leave their doors open during the day because of a heating issue that plagues several classrooms.
“The class would be burning up if the door isn’t open,” Student 1 said.
The students said in the weeks following the assembly, doors are still open throughout the school on a regular basis.
They also don’t feel prepared to face the next few months of school, knowing there could be a possibility of a shooting incident.
“I want the administration to be open with us,” Student 4 said. “There’s no sign of us actually being prepared for the next couple months. There’s no sign of us actually moving forward to do something.”
For this reason, M-S students are planning to join the national school walkout movement on March 14, and plan to visit Springfield on April 20, the 20th anniversary of the Columbine massacre.
That’s why Student 1 wants the school administration to support the walkout and “our right to protest and have our voices heard.”
“It’s a national movement because it’s a national issue,” Student 1 added. “American citizens are dying.”
The district sent an email to parents Tuesday morning stating that the district worked with the Principal Advisory Council, individual students, faculty and district level administration to develop a “process that will allow the students the opportunity to peacefully assemble and freely express their ideas in an atmosphere that is safe for all students that choose to participate.”
Students will be allowed to congregate near the football field for the 17-mintue protest. Classes will continue as scheduled, and students will be responsible for the work they missed during the walkout.
“It is our hope that planning and efforts that have been made will allow the students the opportunity to peacefully assemble together and positively express themselves,” Principal Shannon Cheek said.
For students, the walkout is about more than gun control laws, though.
Students want to be heard, included, valued and educated.
With many seniors and juniors coming of voting age, Student 1 would also like to see the school host a voting drive.
But Student 5 would just like teachers and administrators help students process through what is happening around the school and the nation.
“I feel like teachers and the administration, in general, don’t address major issues,” Student 5 said. “(When the Parkland shooting happened), no one brought anything up. No teacher talked about it. When Vegas happened, I had to go talk to my teacher and be like, ‘hey, can we address this because this is something huge.’”