Boycott goes from threat to reality

The threat of a Chicago Public Schools boycott became a reality Tuesday when nearly 1,000 Chicago students showed up on the campus of New Trier High School in north suburban Northfield to register for classes.

The threat of a Chicago Public Schools boycott became a reality Tuesday when nearly 1,000 Chicago students showed up on the campus of New Trier High School in north suburban Northfield to register for classes.

Linda Yonke, superintendent for the District 203 school, said 800 elementary and 150 high school CPS students were registered.

It’s unlikely, though, that any CPS students will be allowed to attend the north shore school due to a state law, said New Trier School District President James Koch.

“According to state law, if you do not live in a school’s district, you are not eligible to attend,” he said.

However, state law does allow students living outside New Trier’s district to attend if their parents are willing to pay the $17,000 annual tuition, according to Koch.

“We have had students in the past pay tuition to attend New Trier, but we currently do not have any now,” Koch added.

There are 4,000 students at New Trier, and while 12 percent are minorities, only 1 percent is Black, according to Yonke.

“We are here today to send a message to the governor that he needs to keep his promise and better fund public schools,” said state Sen. James Meeks, D-15th, who organized the boycott. “A child’s education should not be based on where they live. This method of school funding is nothing more than a system of apartheid.”

He called on Gov. Rod Blagojevich to make good on a 2006 campaign promise to invest $10 billion in education.

Gov. Blagojevich did not return calls by Defender press time.

Meeks, who is also pastor of Salem Baptist Church, said that 70 percent of school funding comes from property taxes. As a result, he said, CPS spends $10,000 per student while New Trier spends $17,000 per student.

Many parents accompanied their children to New Trier via yellow school buses provided by boycott organizers.

Shannon Lewis, 41, whose daughter is a senior at Wendell Phillips High School on the South Side, was one of those parents.

“I am here because it is time we stand up and let lawmakers know that we are tired of them mistreating our kids,” she said. “It was important that we be here to show that parents are fed up with the way lawmakers see schools attended by Black kids.”

Boycott supporters included a host of clergymen, community and education activists, and concerned residents like Sharon Pough, 47.

Pough does not have any children in CPS but drove to New Trier anyway.

“It’s important for the kids to see that adults care and that there are possibilities beyond their reach,” she said.

The students who skipped school in the city Tuesday had little impact on attendance. The official first day of school attendance won’t be confirmed until later this week but Arne Duncan, CEO of Chicago Public Schools, estimated first day attendance at around 99.7 percent.

“Attendance was very strong. Parents wanted their kids in school,” Duncan said. “I never thought a boycott was a way to address this issue (of school funding).”

Last school year, first day attendance at CPS was 92.8 percent, according to Michael Vaughn, press secretary for CPS.

Boycott organizers said students would begin holding classes Wednesday at various downtown office building lobbies. They include the Daley Center, 50 W. Washington St.; Cook County Building, City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St.; Aon Center, 200 E. Randolph St.; Chicago Board of Trade, 141 W. Washington St.; and J.P. Morgan Chase, 150. Michigan Ave.

Meeks said William Daley, Midwest regional director, private wealth group for J.P. Morgan Chase, looks forward to students coming to the Chase building.

“He (William Daley) said he would make bankers available to teach students about financial responsibilities,” Meeks said at a news conference outside his church, 752 E. 114th St.

Daley is the older brother of Mayor Richard M. Daley and reportedly is considering a run for governor in 2010.

Wendell Hutson can be reached via e-mail at

To see more photos from the boycott, click here.

Copyright 2008 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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