Community Press Release
Update to December 4, 2014 Student Protest at Centennial High School
On Sunday, March 29, 2015, a group of public officials, students, parents, community representatives, and citizens participated in a voluntary Restorative Circle process intended to help resolve issues that arose following the December 4, 2014, incident at Centennial High School in which a vehicle was damaged by students who left the building and walked into the street during a protest of police involved deaths in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York. The event was facilitated by Dr. Elaine Shpungin, the Director of the University of Illinois Psychological Services Center, and Dr. Mikhail Lyubansky, a faculty member in the University of Illinois Department of Psychology. Dr. Shpungin and Dr. Lyubansky have provided Restorative Circle facilitation and educational workshops to the local community, at the Champaign County Juvenile Detention Center, to several campus organizations and residence halls, and to the broader Midwest region. Restorative Circles use a facilitated dialogue to help parties involved in a conflict or painful event to increase mutual understanding and self-responsibility, eventually coming to agreed actions for moving forward. Dr.Shpungin and Dr. Lyubansky are available for comment on Sunday’s Restorative Circle process and on the process as a whole.
Dr. Shpungin and Dr. Lyubansky, with the support of the University of Illinois, have been organizing the March 29, 2015, meeting at the request of Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz, as an alternative to court involvement and as an effort to provide resolution to the individuals and organizations affected by the December 4, 2014, events. Chief Cobb and Superintendent Weigand were supportive of the use of the Restorative Circle process as a step in the resolution of the events. Dr. Shpungin and Dr. Lyubansky met with and interviewed 28 people and spoke by phone with many others to gather information, explain the process, and request voluntary participation in the Restorative Circle. As a result, 16 individuals met at the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club for 3 hours Sunday afternoon and, using the Restorative Circle process, were able to break down misconceptions, accept responsibility, and work towards a resolution of the December 4 events. Those individuals included Champaign Unit 4 Superintendant Judy Wiegand, Assistant Superintendant Laura Taylor, Centennial Principal Greg Johnson, Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb, Unit 4 School Board President Laurie Bonnett, State’s Attorney Julia Rietz, community member and Sisternet Director Imani Bazzell, community member and Project Access Director Tracy Parsons, the driver of the vehicle and her significant other, three Centennial High School students who were involved in the organization of the original demonstration inside the school, two parents and a student mentor. Participation was voluntary. Students who were identified as being in the street at the time the vehicle was damaged were interviewed by Dr. Shpungin and Dr. Lyubansky and offered the opportunity to participate but did not agree to do so. By agreement of those involved in the Restorative Circle process, the identities of the driver and the students and their supporters will remain anonymous.
Participants began by discussing the perception they had of the roles played by the driver, students, school personnel, and police members in the events of December 4. Participants then came to a shared understanding of the responsibility these individuals had for the choices and decisions they made on that day and in the aftermath of the event. The goal was to give each individual the opportunity to express his or her view, for the others in the circle to gain an understanding of how the event affected that individual, and for that individual to understand how his or her actions affected others. All the participants spoke openly. Without going into specifics, intentions and actions were explained and clarified, regrets were expressed, and apologies were made and accepted. During the last phase of the Circle, participants came up with agreed actions for moving forward in a productive manner, including creating further opportunities for education about democratic leadership and restorative justice in the community. Financial remuneration for the driver to repair the damage to her vehicle was also discussed. Although others not present in the circle will need to be involved in determining where the money will come from, the Circle participants committed to making sure that the driver of the vehicle is compensated for the damage to her vehicle and will pursue several strategies for doing so. Participants also agreed to continue the restorative dialogue among their peers and constituents to help clarify and explain the motives and actions of the driver, the students, the police, and the school personnel and to work with student leaders to encourage effective and safe community activism and involvement. All involved left recognizing that the student leaders who participated in the Circle had good intentions, and that the driver found herself caught in a difficult situation.
We would like to express our appreciation to the Circle members for their open and honest participation, to Dr. Shpungin and Dr. Lyubansky for their efforts in organizing and facilitating this Restorative Circle, to the University of Illinois for supporting their involvement in the resolution of this community issue, and to the Boys and Girls Club for providing the facility. We are optimistic that this process, and the agreed actions resulting from it, will be helpful in repairing the harm that resulted from the December 4 event both for the individuals and for the community as a whole. We plan to utilize the Restorative Circle process as appropriate in the future.
More information about this Restorative Circle process can be found at: www.psc.illinois.edu/conflict. Dr. Shpungin and Dr. Lyubansky and State’s Attorney Rietz are available for comment. As noted previously, the names of the students and the driver will not be released publically at their request.
Julia Rietz, State’s Attorney
Chief Anthony Cobb, Champaign Police Department
Superintendent Judy Wiegand, Unit 4 School District