Chicago ministers call for school boycott

August 3, 2008 8:46:26 PM PDT
A controversial call was issued by a powerful Chicago minister Sunday.The Rev. James Meeks, who is also a state senator, wants his congregants and people from other churches to keep their children home from school this fall, until Chicago inner-city schools get more funding from Springfield.

Sunday sermons were used to gather support for the idea of boycotting Chicago Public Schools. Rev. James Meeks announced his idea last week.

Equal funding for education is something Meeks has been fighting for in Springfield since he was elected state senator six years ago, but he and other pastors believe a boycott is the only way to get attention.

"We are back in segregation, and people are wondering why we are mad," Meeks said to his South Side congregation at the Salem Baptist Church.

On the city's West Side, another minister was preaching a similar message.

"This systemic bias is hurting black children in disproportionate numbers," said Greater St. John Bible Church's Rev. Ira Acree.

Education is a fight some African-American ministers say they will never give up on. Led by State Senator Meeks, several pastors used the pulpit Sunday to gather support for their Chicago Public School boycott on the first day of school.

"I want to keep kids out of the 'colored' schools. I don't want kids to have to go and drink from the 'colored' water fountain. I don't want them to use the 'colored' toilet or to have to sit at the 'colored' desk," Meeks said.

The reverend and senator says he will keep kids out for several days until money is allocated to Chicago's poorer schools. The plan is to try to enroll kids at New Trier High school in Winnetka, where thousands of dollars more are spent on each student, compared to Chicago Public Schools.

"This is not right, and it is a proven formula for failure," Reverend Acree said.

Some parents support the boycott, as they witness first-hand the disparities in school funding.

"I grew up in the CPS system, and as a father, it's really disgusting to send a child to a school that doesn't even have toilet paper [or has] 20-year-old books. It's despicable," parent Lewis Roy said.

While many share the frustration, many also believe taking kids out of school is not the right way to fix the problem. Among them is Valencia Rias, with education group Designs for Change.

"It's a no-win situation. No one is going to benefit because our children will be at home and not learning, and they still have to pass those tests later in the school year," Rias said.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan and Mayor Daley share Rias' opinion. The mayor said last week that he understood Reverend Meeks' frustration over school funding, but he said he does not think it justifies a boycott.

Meeks and several ministers are scheduling a rally Thursday at Federal Plaza, where they also plan to announce a lawsuit.


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