Jesse Jackson arrested in Illinois high school protest
November 16, 1999
From staff and wire reports
DECATUR, Illinois -- The Rev. Jesse Jackson was arrested Tuesday as he attempted to go onto the campus of a high school attempting to have six expelled students reinstated.
Jackson was led away in handcuffs, as were several ministers who also crossed a police line in front of Dwight D. Eisenhower High School.
A number of parents, raising their arms above their heads, shouted, "Arrest me, too." However, police did not take them away.
Not all the people in the crowd were on Jackson's side.
"Go home Jesse," shouted Mark Powell. Another person held a sign reading "We elected our school board, not Jesse Jackson."
Authorities said Jackson was taken to the Macon County jail. They did not know what charges he would face.
Initially, seven students were expelled. One left the state, but all seven appeared at a rally Monday night attended by about 400 people and apologized, saying they were sorry for what they had done.
Reached edge of school grounds
"We want the youth to stand still knowing that their parents and their ministers would cross the line for them," Jackson said before he and his followers fought their way through a mob of reporters and cameramen to reach the edge of the school grounds.
Jackson said he and the parents were attempting to go to the school to appeal that their children -- who were expelled for fighting -- be allowed to return to class.
Before he crossed the police line, Jackson said school board officials had refused his appeal to treat the six on a "case- by-case basis."
Jackson also said he was "very disappointed" that the school board refused to budge on imposing at least a one-year expulsion regardless of how well the students do in an alternative school. Jackson and others have recommended allowing the students to rejoin their classmates as early as January.
An emergency school board meeting is set for Tuesday evening.
The Rev. James Meeks of Operation Push said he hopes the board will consider letting those expelled students, whose behavior at the alternative school "qualifies" them, to return to their normal school.
"Especially the two seniors, one with 3 credits away, one with four credits away, we were hoping they would be able to go back to school in January," said Meeks.
Decatur Superintendent Kenneth Arndt said he did not believe the students could catch up with their work in the 19 school days that remain before the end of the year.
"We're talking about 19 school days. These students have been out since September 17. How is any student going to get caught up with at least a C average in 19 days?" he asked.
Expulsion originally was for 2 years
The board originally expelled the students for two years, under its zero-tolerance policy on violence. But it later reduced the punishment to one year and allowed them to attend alternative school.
Illinois School Superintendent Glenn McGee recommended that the students rejoin their classmates in January if they maintain good grades and behavior in the alternative school programs. However, school officials have held firm against further compromise.
The expulsion resulted from a brawl in the stands at a football game September 17. A seventh student withdrew during expulsion hearings.
The fight "was less violent than a wrestling match," Jackson told CNN on Tuesday outside the school.
He has argued that the punishment is "too harsh and extreme" and treats the six students as a group, rather than judging their individual roles in the fight.
The students are black, but Jackson has said it was not a question of racism but whether the students were treated fairly. He said the school board has handed out lesser punishments for more severe offenses.
He also charged the school board has violated the privacy rights of the students by leaking their records.
Arndt said the fears of parents and students kept many students from attending school Monday and Tuesday.
Jackson seeks federal review of Decatur school expulsions
Eisenhower High School, Decatur IL
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