By Josh Bootsma
LANSING, Ill. (April 14, 2022) – Lansing School District 158 released a letter on Wednesday sharing some details and results of a fight that took place at Memorial Junior High School last week. The letter quickly spread in the Lansing community on Wednesday and Thursday.
The letter — written by District 158 Superintendent Dr. Nathan Schilling — said two students started fighting after school on Thursday, April 7. In a conversation with The Lansing Journal, Schilling said the fight occurred near Door 17 on the school’s east side.
“It wasn’t just two kids fighting,” he said, “It was two kids fighting that led to others joining in on the fight, and then two other kids engaging in a simultaneous, separate fight that resulted in other kids joining in on that fight.”
The incident was primarily among eighth-graders, though some seventh-graders were involved, Schilling said, estimating that “no more than a dozen” students were part of the altercation.
As Memorial Jr. High faculty and staff intervened to stop the fighting, one teacher was hit multiple times, while another tripped and injured herself.
“This was fighting and mob action,” Schilling said. “I’m well aware of how kids will want to stand and watch, or get their phones and tape fights, but you usually don’t see all of the bystanders then jump in. And that’s what made this different.”
The Lansing Police Department was called to Memorial after the fight concluded, LPD Detective Sergeant Mike Lazowski said. No weapons were used during the incident.
Schilling said while one teacher has returned to school since the incident, the other has not yet returned.
The D158 letter to parents, titled, “Quarter 4 Letter of Concern,” cited the Illinois code when describing the students’ involvement last Thursday as “mob action.” The letter also said consequences could include long-term suspension, police citations, alternative placement, loss of social privileges, and expulsion.
Lansing Police Detective Kiera Bogan is leading an investigation into the incident, and potential charges and citations are pending.
Schilling told The Lansing Journal that students involved have been suspended. He also said eighth-grade students involved will not be allowed to participate in the graduation ceremony at the end of the year.
“Loss of social privileges is part of the consequences that we would give for something like this,” he said. “For an eighth grader, the loss of social privilege would be the loss of graduation. That doesn’t necessarily mean a child would not be able to move onto high school next year. It’s not an academic penalty. It’s a social penalty. It means they wouldn’t be able to participate in the graduation ceremony itself.”
Schilling also said that District 158 usually prefers placing students in alternative schools rather than expelling them. These other schools include the The Regional Institute for Scholastic Excellence (RISE), which serves students eligible for suspension or expulsion; Providing Alternatives for Continuing Education (PACE), which offers a therapeutic environment for learning; and others.
Causes and effects of fighting
The District 158 letter was shared in a Lansing Facebook group on Wednesday, where it was commented on 200 times, as of this writing.
One Memorial parent, whose daughter is in eighth grade, told The Lansing Journal she shared the school-wide email with her daughter.
“When I read the email to my daughter, she said, ‘Oh yeah, I saw the Snapchat of the fight,'” the parent said.
The parent, who did not wish to be identified by name, said her daughter feels that there is a fighting problem at Memorial.
“She is one of the first kids out the door. She gets out and goes to the car as fast as she can,” the parent said. “The kids are just so disruptive.”
Schilling said he believes that while the pandemic hasn’t directly caused negative behaviors, mental health issues have been exacerbated by it.
“This is a nationwide problem. It’s not just behavioral issues, it’s not just disciplinary issues. It really is a socialization issue. It’s a social-emotional health issue,” he said. “There is a student mental health crisis in our profession of education.”
He also believes social media can be an inflammatory force among today’s students.
“A lot of fights occur earlier in the week, sometimes because kids have been on social media all weekend and those feelings — those issues, the anxiety, and hostility — spill over into the school environment at the start of the week,” Schilling said.
Learning, not leaving
The Memorial parent said though she’s concerned about her son’s safety when he begins attending Memorial in a few years, she’s not thinking of enrolling him in a different school.
“The problem is everywhere. My husband went to Memorial, I went to Heritage. We’ve grown up out here,” she said. “There’s no perfect part in the world. If you remove your kid from that situation, you’re just setting them up for a bigger failure. You’ve got to show them the dangers and say, ‘This is life; here’s what you’ve got to do.'”
Schilling believes many other parents will feel the same way: “We get a lot comments that people may perceive that the grass is greener somewhere else, and it almost always is not.”
Looking forward, Schilling is anticipating having a school resource police officer devoted to District 158, something he and Lansing Police Chief Al Phillips have been working on and hope to debut for next school year. Currently, Detective Kiera Bogan serves as the school resource officer for District 215, while spending some time at District 158 and 171 schools.
“I would encourage our community to not let one unfortunate incident change the perception [of Memorial]. … This doesn’t change the fact that Memorial Jr. High School is an excellent school. The school is very much going to move forward from this and learn from this in order to improve all aspects of the school,” Schilling said.
Memorial Jr. High School is located at 2721 Ridge Road in Lansing.