School boycott supporters to push message

  • By Paul D. Bowker
  • Education reporter
  • August 22, 2008 @ 10:15 AM

More than 200 backers of a controversial school boycott plan are expected to hit the streets in three city neighborhoods tomorrow in an effort to gain support.

The boycott, slated for Sept. 2, the first day of school, is intended to draw attention to school funding inequities. Illinois ranks 47th in state spending per student and Chicago ranks worse than many of the suburbs surrounding the city.

"We're going to take it to the streets. There should be hundreds of us," says Rev. Ira J. Acree, of Save Our Schools Now, which is organizing the boycott.

Protesters will gather at Salem Baptist Church of Chicago, 752 E. 114th St., Heritage International Christian Church, 5312 W. North Ave, and Sunrise Full Gospel Church, 6157 S. Aberdeen.

Pastors and volunteers will have a 30-minute training session at each church at 9 a.m., Acree says, and then go through the neighborhoods.

Saturday's campaign follows a similar canvass of the West Side held by the group more than a week ago. Meanwhile, the school district held rallies to encourage attendance.

Both sides want to bring attention to what they feel is inadequate funding provided city schools by state legislators.

CPS officials strongly oppose the boycott and say any absences will be counted on students' records. Students are allowed nine absences over the course of a school year; anything over that requires attendance in summer school to be promoted to the next grade.

"We applaud the battle, but not the strategy," says Arne Duncan, CPS chief. "Our children have to be in school. Our message is very simple."

Duncan says the planned boycott has not caused a battle for opening-day attendance.

But there is clearly a divide among many pastors in Chicago and among parents, who must decide whether to send their children to school or not. Jolondon Jamerson, local school council chair at Bowen High School on the South Side, says parents at her church disagree on the issue.

The controversy of keeping kids out of school has created conflict even within Acree.

“Personally, I haven’t been able to sleep at night. This has been very hard,“  says Acree, pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church on the West Side.

The boycott represents something of a last resort. More than 100 pastors have gone to Springfield to lobby for more funding. Yet gaps remain. City schools spend $10,000 per student each year, while New Trier High School in Winnetka spends $17,000.

On Sept. 2, Save Our Schools Now organizers plan to transport the boycotting students to New Trier, and attempt to enroll them in New Trier schools.

"After they reject us," Acree says, "we're going to hold a rally."

Acree says his group has received support from students and parents in Chicago who are at selective-enrollment schools and even within the New Trier school system.

"They are actually sensitive to our plight," he says.

Paul Bowker, a Chicago-area journalist with 25 years of experience, covers Chicago Public Schools for the Daily News.