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Champaign schools will continue to use private security in the wake of police officer shortages

Director of Information Systems Valarian Couch listens to a Board of Education question on Monday, Oct. 25, 2021.

CHAMPAIGN – Chicago-based security company AGB will continue to guard Champaign public schools this year.

The company won out against the other bidder for the work — Stockholm-based Securitas.

The Champaign Unit 4 School District Board of Education unanimously approved the contract on Monday, with questions about how the company has done so far.

“There’s certainly a narrative that there were concerns,” said board member Heather Vazquez.

Unit 4 administrators assured the board that AGB has taken criticism well and has met with students and union representatives to hear their concerns.

A fall of feedback

AGB Investigative Services started with the district late this summer as an emergency option after the Champaign Police Department decided to pull its school resource officers out of schools. The department is dealing with a shortage of police officers.

Superintendent Shelia Boozer and Director of Information Systems Valarian Couch have been fielding questions from school families since then.

Board President Amy Armstrong voiced one family question at Monday’s meeting.

“Are we ensuring (AGB officers) understand students, particularly students with autism, who might escalate when touched or yelled at?” Armstrong asked.

Couch said the district has planned training with AGB primarily for this purpose. This is on top of the training AGB already incorporates.

In response to community concerns, the district incorporated students and union representatives into the interview process. After interviewing the two companies, about 75% of participants voted in favor of AGB.

How to keep students safe

Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020 renewed questions about whether police officers belong in schools. Many worry that officers could target Black students, who already face disproportionate punishment in school.

Losing its school resources officers was out of the Champaign Unit 4 School District’s control. Still, private security hired by the district – rather than the city – isn’t the worst situation, says superintendent Boozer.

“When we have a seat at the table and are able to direct what that looks like, it’s better,” she said. “That’s what we have with AGB. The fact that it is a firm that is predominately people of color — for our students to see that — is an added bonus for all of our students, no matter where they come from,” Boozer said.

AGB is the largest Black-owned security firm in the country.

The district stayed mum on whether private security is the long-term solution for Champaign schools.

“That would really be speculation,” said Chief Communications Officer Stacey Moore.

The district estimates it will spend $559,224 on the AGB contract by July 2022. The contract has an option for renewal next year at the same fee level. The district is also hiring a director of school security to supervise contractors or any future school security employees.

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter @amihatt

Picture of Emily Hays

Emily Hays

Emily Hays started at WILL in October 2021 after three-plus years in local newsrooms in Virginia and Connecticut. She has won state awards for her housing coverage at Charlottesville Tomorrow and her education reporting at the New Haven Independent. Emily graduated from Yale University where she majored in History and South Asian Studies.

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