DECATUR, Ill. (AP) -- The Rev. Jesse Jackson n Wednesday dropped his demand that six students expelled for a fight at a football game be allowed back in school, saying he would support moving them into alternative education classes. Earlier, Jackson had rejected a school board offer to cut the students' two-year expulsions to one year and put them in alternative school for the year. He said he wanted them re-enrolled immediately.
"If alternative school is part of a grander scheme in getting the kids back into the school system, that's acceptable," Jackson said Wednesday. He said he wanted those eligible to graduate this year to still be able to do so. Six students were expelled for allegedly taking part in a brawl in the stands at a football game at Eisenhower High School on Sept. 17. A seventh student was threatened with expulsion but withdrew from school first.
The three high schools in this blue-collar city were closed for security reasons Monday and Tuesday as Jackson led protests on behalf of the expelled students. The schools reopened Wednesday, with police checking students' ID. No incidents were reported, but 41 percent of students stayed home. The expelled students are all black, but Jackson has said fairness is more at issue than race.
Jackson said he met with state school Superintendent Glenn "Max" McGee at a hotel Wednesday night, and the two talked by phone with Gov. George Ryan. Jackson and McGee said they all agreed on a plan that could put individual students back in regular schools in less than a year if they did well at the alternative schools. Jackson said the plan included the creation of an outside review board to determine the students' ultimate punishment.
Jackson lashed out at the school board for refusing to schedule a meeting on the proposal Wednesday night. "It has rebuffed the governor and the state superintendent," Jackson said. Schools Superintendent Kenneth Arndt said the board spent hours discussing the issue and was too exhausted to meet on the new proposal. "I've learned never to say never, but I do not see this board getting together in the immediate future when they have spent unbelievable hours on this issue," Arndt said.
On Tuesday, four people accused in the brawl were charged with mob action, a felony, which Jackson said "will only make matters worse." The four included two of those who were expelled and the student who withdrew. The fourth was not a student at the time of the fight. Five others were also charged as juveniles. It was unclear whether any of them were among those expelled.
Prosecutor Lawrence Fichter said Wednesday he would be open to a plea bargain. "What we start out with may not be what we end up with," he said. Lewis Myers Jr., an attorney for one of the students, said there will be no deal. "These charges are vindictive and brought solely to intimidate these young men and their families," he said.
A videotape of the fight made by a spectator at Eisenhower's game against MacArthur High shows a boy punching and kicking someone while someone else climbs into the stands from the track to join the melee. Fans in the stands scatter, and some cover small children. Things calm down after less than a minute, but police said the tape catches only the last third of the fight.