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Tuesday, November 9, 1999 Published at 12:28 GMT


Jackson backs down in expulsion row

Five of the students expelled for fighting

Civil rights activist, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, has backed down in a row over the expulsion of six black pupils from high schools in Illinois.

The Rev Jackson has been leading protests against the Illinois School District's decision to expel the students for a year for fighting at a football game.

He had been demanding that they be reinstated at their schools in Decatur.

But now he has said alternative education would be acceptable as part of a scheme to get the students back into the school system.

The fight happened in September, at a game between Decatur's Eisenhower and MacArthur high schools.

Pupils from the two schools, as well as from Decatur's third high school, Stephen Decatur, were involved.

[ image: The Reverend Jesse Jackson is leading a campaign to reinstate the students]
The Reverend Jesse Jackson is leading a campaign to reinstate the students
The original ruling made by the school board was to expel the six students for two years. This was cut on appeal to expulsion for one year.

Another pupil withdrew from school before he could be expelled.

The city's three high schools, which were closed on Monday and Tuesday for fear of violence from protestors, re-opened on Wednesday for a half-day. They are due to be closed again on Thursday and Friday.

Rev Jackson had vowed to re-enrol the students at their schools on Wednesday.

But in a move which he says "will only make matters worse", four students, including two who were expelled, now face charges of "mob action", and another has been charged with "aggravated battery and resisting a police officer".

'Too severe'

Rev Jackson said he was backing down, because he did not want to risk further criminal charges against the students.

"If alternative school is part of a grander scheme in getting the kids back into the school system, that's acceptable," he said.

Rev Jackson led a march through the streets of Decatur on Sunday, and on Monday took a small group of protestors to Eisenhower High School to try to persuade the school board to let the students return.

He held another rally in a church on Tuesday evening.

At a meeting with the school board on Monday, in which Governor George Ryan acted as mediator, Rev Jackson called the fight unacceptable, but said the punishment was "too severe".

The fight was a simple fist fight, he said.

He said the issue was not a question of racism, but of whether the students were treated fairly.

'Remedy not rejection'

But the school board president, Jackie Goetter, said the fight was a "mob action" that endangered hundreds, although she admitted she was not aware of any serious injuries resulting from the fight.

The decision to prosecute, taken two months after the incident, was attacked by Rev Jackson as an attempt "to criminalize these youths to justify themselves".

But Macon County State's Attorney Larry Fichter said the timing of the charges was coincidental.

He had announced last week that that charges would be filed this week, he said.

"Jesse Jackson does not set the agenda for the Macon County State's Attorney's Office."

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