CPS students boycott first day of school

September 2, 2008 8:58:01 PM PDT
Tuesday was the first day of school for hundreds of thousands of Chicago Public Schools students. But about 950 students were not there. They spent the day in the north suburbs taking part in a school boycott. Students and their parents rode buses from Chicago's South Side to the more affluent New Trier West High School in Northfield. The purpose of the boycott: to make a point about school funding.

In the afternoon, students and parents rallied to demand more money for schools. Those who participated will be head back to the city. Though they missed a day of classes, they got a lesson in the fine art of politicking, persuasion and playing to the media.

It is a field trip to see "how the other half lives."

"This school has more money, it's bigger. They got a lot more activities. Our school is small," said Tenese Brown, 7th Grade CPS student.

The Reverend and State Senator James Meeks got 800 elementary and 150 Chicago public high school students to ship the first day of class to make a statement.

Was he successful?

"It's successful because everyone in the state of Illinois is focused on funding disparities. Many people didn't even know that a funding disparity existed," said State Sen. Rev. James Meeks, (D) Chicago.

The attempt to register Chicago kids in a suburban school is an exercise in pointless paperwork since none will be allowed to attend. Nonetheless, New Trier greeted the Chicago students, their parents and other adult chaperones with open arms -- even if not everyone agrees with the message missing school sends.

"Most of the people in this community support this cause. We all believe in a first-rate education for all kids, and demonstrations like this are the best way to bring attention to the problem," said Ken Bley, 1967 New Trier H.S. graduate.

"It should be between Meeks, legislators and the state. They need to work out something that doesn't involve the kids. He's using them as pawns," said Betsy Kochvar, Northfield resident.

Among those in the crowd were some who left Chicago years ago looking for a better education. They say this rally is a reminder of why they left.

"The books are outdated and beat up, the teachers are less than acceptable. That's all I can say. The students are just overlooked," said Sean Vincent, Thornton Fractional South H.S. student.

"We made the decision years ago to bring the mountain to Muhammad, because I wanted her to have the best possible education she could," said Carmen Corbett, parent of New Trier graduate.

Senator Meeks say the governor and mayor are to blame for failing schools in Chicago. Mayor Daley says they agree that schools should get more money but says the boycott is a bad idea.

"You cannot use a child on the first day of school, tell them not to go to school," said Mayor Daley. "Why don't you do it in June? Why don't you do in it July? When they're out? Why tell them not to go to school today? Children have to be in school. If they're not in school the first day, don't blame the teacher. You should not use children dealing with a political issue."

Meeks asked all those who took part in Tuesday's boycott to do it again Wednesday. The focus will change. He's asking students to go to the Thompson Center, City Hall and some downtown businesses, where their presence might be a signal to those who may have some say in this entire school funding dispute.


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