DECATUR, Ill. (AP) -- With a threatened federal lawsuit as a backdrop, the Rev. Jesse Jackson planned Tuesday to try to get a group of expelled black students back in school, facing arrest if necessary.
"We intend to take our children back to Decatur Public Schools," Jackson said Monday night after an emergency school board meeting. He had spent the day meeting with school officials mediated by Gov. George Ryan.Seven teenagers received two-year expulsions after fighting at a Sept. 17 football game between MacArthur and Eisenhower high schools.
Lewis Myers, the students' attorney, contends the school district violated his clients' constitutional rights and he plans to file a federal lawsuit Tuesday.
The seven students are all black, but Jackson says the discipline is not a matter of racism, just whether they were treated fairly.
He accused the school board of overstepping its authority by expelling students who hadn't been charged with a crime.
"A fist fight is different from a knife fight is different from a gun fight is different from a rape is different from a drug bust," Jackson said. "We urge the school district to put forth a punishment that leads to remedy and not rejection."
Others in the city of 81,000, also have called the punishment unduly harsh. Macon County Sheriff Roger Walker said the discipline was tougher than anything the judicial system would have meted out.
But the school board president maintains that the fight was a "mob action" that endangered hundreds.
The board on Monday decided to cut in half the students' expulsions and allow them to attend alternative school after a state law prohibiting that was waived by Ryan, who had suggested the option.
But Jackson rejected the solution, deciding instead to march with the students in protest today.
Decatur School Superintendent Kenneth Arndt warned Jackson and his supporters, who preached, prayed and sang with the students in front of Eisenhower High School early Monday, that they would be arrested if they refused to leave after being asked today.
"We certainly hope that doesn't happen, but it appears the stage has been set," Arndt said.
One of the expelled students said he hoped an apology would be enough to get reinstated.
"We made a mistake; we never had a chance to apologize," said Greg Howell, an Eisenhower senior. "They make us look all terrible, and we want to apologize and keep it from happening again."