DECATUR, Ill. (AP) -- The Rev. Jesse Jackson said today he will risk arrest with demonstrations at the city's high schools in his
attempt to re-enroll six students expelled for a brawl at afootball game. "We're in the middle of a very heated battle here that is not for Decatur only," Jackson said, standing outside MacArthur High School. He has criticized the school district's "zero tolerance" policy on violence and said such policies nationwide need to be reviewed.
Jackson led more than 2,000 people Sunday on a march along the streets of Decatur to demand that the expulsions, already reduced
to one school year, be cut even further.
Participants, most of them arriving by bus from Chicago, carried signs reading "Lift up, not lock out" and "Save the dream: Leave no child behind." The march began and ended with "We Shall Overcome" hanging in the air of a clear autumn day.
Kenneth Arndt, Decatur's school superintendent, said today that although the expelled students have been offered an alternative education program, "no one has yet bothered to meet these alternative education teachers." Jackson promised to visit the schools to demonstrate and force authorities to arrest him. He asked how many would be willing to join him in jail, and hundreds of people raised their hands.
"On Tuesday morning, we're going to cross the line," he said. "If Dr. (Martin Luther) King could do it in Birmingham ... and (Nelson) Mandela could do it in South Africa, we can do it in Decatur." Decatur School Board President Jackie Goetter said Sunday night
that she knew nothing about Jackson's deadline or his threat of further demonstrations.
"I just hope he would think about that," she said. "I just think it would be very unfortunate."
The six students were expelled after allegedly taking part in a brawl in the stands at a football game Sept. 17. A seventh withdrew
from school during expulsion hearings. The students are black, but Jackson has said it was not a question of racism but whether the
students -- now dubbed the "Decatur Seven" -- were treated fairly.
Jackson led a similar march Nov. 7, demanding that the students be returned to the classroom. Decatur
next two days.
In the meantime. Gov. George Ryan stepped in to negotiate an agreement. At his prodding -- and under a national spotlight -- the local school board voted to trim the expulsions to one school year and let the students attend alternative education programs. But Jackson wants the students returned more quickly.
He and state school Superintendent Glenn "Max" McGee have proposed creating a special panel to review the students' conduct
and grades in January; those that are doing well might be allowed back in the classroom then.
On Sunday, McGee indicated he was withdrawing his personal involvement in trying to negotiate a solution, saying he gave it
his best effort but "I really think it's a local issue at this point."
During Sunday's parade, about a dozen Ku Klux Klan members based in Indiana held a counterdemonstration at a Decatur park. A crowd of some 150 people watched, many cheering the Klan's remarks.