‘Last Wednesday was a black eye’

March 12, 2019

After a lunchroom brawl that resulted in the suspension of 21 students last December, Kankakee High School has seen a decrease in fighting.

However, that progress has been overshadowed by a student getting stabbed with a box cutter last Wednesday between lunch periods.

“What happened last Wednesday was a black eye to me and this administration,” Principal George Harris told a crowd of 40 parents Monday night at the high school.

“Until then, I never had a weapon used on another student. Yes, I have confiscated a lot of weapons and found a lot of weapons in and around school property. But I never had a student cut or hit with a weapon.”

Harris led the public meeting that discussed the incident and the school’s plans to further reduce fighting.

Last Wednesday, a social media conversation escalated into an argument that resulted in one student punching another. The student who got punched in the face then stabbed the aggressor with a box cutter.

The student who got stabbed received two staples at a local hospital. The other student also was treated locally for minor injuries.

Both received suspensions, with the Kankakee School District 111 considering supplemental discipline for the student who used the box cutter. Investigations Commander Dave Skelly, of the Kankakee Police Department, told the Daily Journal on Monday that charges have not been filed yet.

School officials said the two students who fought are friends, and they do not fit the profile of a bully.

“These two individuals were not the usual characters,” Harris said. “It doesn’t matter. Kids are going to make poor choices. Kids are going to make mistakes. In that situation, this young man, for reasons of his own, had a box cutter and made a poor decision.”

Harris wants school staff to improve their response times to breaking up fights. It took about 10 seconds for an adult to intervene last Wednesday, though the incident occurred while students were switching lunch periods.

“If you see the video, you would wonder if an adult could get there quicker,” Harris said. “In this situation, I would have liked for us to have gotten there quicker. We need to be critical with our active supervision.

“That means not taking your eyes off the lunchroom while having a conversation. It means not sitting in one spot. We cannot be stagnant. We can be more active.”

School administrators also asked for parents’ help in monitoring their children’s social media accounts and to inform them of any incidents that occur outside of school.

“We are constantly concerned about fights that start outside,” said Assistant Principal Bob DeOliviera, who oversees the junior class. “Very often, those fights begin outside the building. We really need the parents and community to be aware of those kinds of things. If you hear there was a fight at a party, like there was this past Saturday, please, tell us.”

The high school had 39 fights in December followed by 10 in January and 11 in February. Harris attributed the decline to the school’s decision to have students arrested and taken to the Kankakee Police Department.

As for last Wednesday’s stabbing, Harris said administrators still are investigating.

Tom Latham, director of the Kankakee County juvenile probation program, told the Daily Journal on Monday his office has not been contacted for a detention screening.

Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe also has not received anything regarding the incident.

“We haven’t seen anything from police yet,” Rowe said. “All we have seen is what has been in your paper.”

Kankakee school board member Jess Gathing challenged the idea that student safety is an issue at the end of the meeting.

“Do we have a problem with safety at Kankakee High School? No,” he said. “Kids are kids. Kids do what kids do.”

“We have the big fight and the knifing incident, and all of the sudden, Kankakee High School — with everything that’s going on with the new look of the school — is unsafe. It’s not unsafe. We have the security guards and administrators doing their job.”