Decatur school board refuses to budge on expulsions
No arrests in latest Jackson protest
November 17, 1999
DECATUR, Illinois (CNN) -- The controversy over six Illinois high school students expelled for fighting at a football game could be headed to court after Decatur's school board decided to stand by its decision to expel the students for one year.
Meanwhile, civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson -- who was briefly jailed while protesting the expulsions on Tuesday -- led a prayer vigil outside MacArthur High School on Wednesday, but he did not cross a police line and provoke arrest.
Jackson said a lawsuit would be filed alleging that school officials violated privacy laws by disclosing how many days of school the expelled students have missed and by revealing that some had repeated grades.
School board president Jackie Goetter said Tuesday night that she believes school officials have been fair and if the students feel otherwise, they should file suit.
"If the students or their parents feel the punishment was wrong or wish to challenge its severity, they should seek relief in the courtroom," Goetter said.
Expulsions originally for two years
The six students originally were expelled for two years under Dwight D. Eisenhower High's zero-tolerance policy on violence.
They were accused of taking part in a brawl in the stands at a football game against MacArthur High School on September 17. A seventh student withdrew from school during expulsion hearings. Three of the students also face criminal charges in the incident.
Under pressure from Jackson and state officials including Gov. George Ryan, the school board voted last week to trim the expulsions from two school years to one, and to let the students attend alternative education programs immediately.
However, Jackson wants the students to be eligible for reinstatement at Eisenhower as early as January if they do well in alternative school.
The board again met in an emergency session Tuesday night to discuss the issue, but decided to stick with its decision to keep the students out of high school for one year, while allowing them to attend an alternative program.
"This program is the best and most practical route to graduation," board president Jackie Goetter said.
Jackson staying in Decatur
Jackson was arrested Tuesday as he and a group of supporters attempted to walk onto the Eisenhower campus.
"We want the youth to stand still knowing that their parents and their ministers would cross the line for them," Jackson said before he walked to the edge of the school grounds.
Jackson was led away in handcuffs along with several other ministers who also crossed the police line in front of the school.
A number of parents, raising their arms above their heads, shouted, "Arrest me, too." However, police did not take them away.
Jackson was released Tuesday evening from the Macon County Jail on $10,000 bond.
On Wednesday he led about 100 demonstrators to MacArthur High.
Speaking from the tailgate of a truck next to the school, Jackson said the parents of the expelled students and several ministers would risk arrest to challenge what he called an unjust order from the Decatur School Board.
The parents marched to the locked front door of the school past a waiting police line, but they were not arrested.
Jackson walked into the school parking lot but did not try to cross the police line.
The group then held a sidewalk prayer and song service.
Jackson is to remain in Decatur for the next few days, and he is planning another protest march Sunday.
Not about race
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.
"Whether black or white, it's not right," Jackson said Wednesday morning. He said the schools should be counseling the students instead of expelling them.
All seven students appeared at a rally Monday night attended by about 400 people and apologized and said they were sorry for what they had done.
Jackson, who previously described the fight as "less violent than a wrestling match," said Wednesday he was protesting a backlash against the nation's young people after the April shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.
"This matter is not about race, but about reason," Jackson said Wednesday. "There is a national trend of ugliness and insensitivity toward our children, toward all of America's children."
Jackson argued earlier 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.
Illinois School Superintendent Glenn McGee also 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.
Decatur school board stands by expulsions
Eisenhower High School, Decatur IL
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