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Rockford community disappointed by school board's response to school violence protests

Peter Medlin
Police remove community member during school board meeting

In October, the family of a Rockford Public Schools student filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the school board, a school resource officer and several administrators from Auburn High School.

The suit says that in the fall of 2021, Parris Moore, who was a freshman at the time and stood less than 5-feet tall, was body-slammed by a school resource officer. Security footage shows officer Bradley Lauer slamming Moore’s head on the concrete floor, knocking him unconscious and fracturing his skull. The 14-year-old’s offense? Skipping part of his second-period class and walking down the hall.

The lawsuit also alleges a cover-up by the school district.

The news did not sit well with Rockford residents. In the weeks and months following the lawsuit, community members packed school board meetings to protest and give public comments.

Nicholas Stange came to shoot video for the Rockford anti-police violence group May 30th Alliance. He stood in the back of the meeting and didn’t make a comment. Afterwards, the local high school history teacher stood out in the snow capturing footage of the outside of the building.

That’s when a board member, Michael Connor, walked out, came right up to him and swung. His punch hit Stange’s camera -- which was recording the whole incident. Connor repeats, “You have no business!” and, “You’re trying to intimidate!”

Connor resigned the next day. Stange says he got a sympathetic email from one board member. At the next meeting, that same member talked about how he wished he had intervened. But, Stange says, he still hasn’t heard any remorse from the board about what happened to Parris Moore in the first place.

“To my knowledge, they haven't even expressed sympathy for the injuries he sustained,” he said. “I understand it's in legal right now and you’ve got to go through that. But there's no reason why you can't say, ‘we feel terrible about what happened.’”

He says it’s also deeply frustrating that protesting school violence has led to more violence from the school district. Stange also mentions how several community members have been forcibly removed for speaking out at board meetings.

“The violence I've seen take place has not occurred by any of the May 30 members or by any of the community," he said. "It's been strictly by the police who bent a girl's arm as she was being escorted out and put in an elevator with four other police for simply speaking out at a meeting."

Ari Perez was pulled out of a November meeting by security for talking outside of the public comment section. The next time he came to a board meeting, two Rockford police officers along with security guards were waiting for him. They stopped him and told him he was banned from attending RPS school board meetings.

Perez tried to ask for paperwork that explained why he was banned or for how long, but he says security told him he already had it and that he needed to leave the property, or they’d arrest him.

He says he hadn’t been handed anything. Perez says he walked by security personnel holding what he thought were meeting agendas, but they never gave him anything or called his name.

By mid-December, he finally received a letter in the mail from the board. It said he’d been banned from board meetings for the rest of the school year because he “attempted to disrupt and interrupt the regular business of the school board.”

Perez says he’s not the only community member to receive a ban.

Ricky Naylor is a community member who attends nearly every school board meeting, often speaking about racial inequality in the district.

“We get called the police on [us] for making comments," he said. "Why didn’t they call the police on the police when he slammed that kid? That was child abuse."

Just this past month, the attorneys for Parris Moore’s family added a new complaint to the lawsuit. It alleges the school board attempted to pressure his family not to pursue legal action as a part of a cover-up.

Nicholas Stange's video shows now-former-board member Michael Connor said, “You’re trying to intimidate,” to Stange after he swung at him. Now, the suit alleges the school board tried to intimidate Moore’s family in order to get them to not sue.

That alleged cover-up and the board’s silence about Parris Moore is why some members of the Rockford community aren't too bothered by people speaking up during meetings, even if it’s outside of public comment. They think maybe that’s what it will take to hold the board accountable.

Naylor says he’s still upset the incident happened in September 2021 and it wasn’t addressed until over a year later with the lawsuit.

“How did this happen for a whole year, and nobody knows about it?" he said. "It's got to be a cover-up.”

Members of the RPS205 school board declined WNIJ’s request for comment or interview. The federal civil rights lawsuit against the school district, school resource officer, and Auburn High School administrators is still pending.

Peter joins WNIJ as a graduate of North Central College. He is a native of Sandwich, Illinois.