Students Demand More Security

Rosalind Rossi, Chicago Sun-Times, April 5, 2006

At least 150 students played hooky from Kennedy High School on Tuesday to demand extra security in their Southwest Side school, saying they’d even welcome cops in the classroom to stem rising violence.

Toting signs reading “Does Someone Have to Die?” and “We’re Scared of School,” kids rallied across the street from Kennedy in the wake of a brutal beating last week that stunned the school.

Even Jesse Ruiz, State Board of Education chairman, called the assault “disturbing” and asked the board staff to examine the state’s spin on a federal law meant to help students who are crime victims.

Beating prompts walkout

Four Kennedy students have been charged with misdemeanor battery for pummeling a senior honor student and breaking his nose during a March 29 meeting of all seniors in the school auditorium. Witnesses said the attackers threw feces at the victim. The motive was uncertain.

The week before that, a loaded gun was found in the bushes outside the school auditorium.

“Kennedy is a good school,” Ibtesam Nasser Saleh, 19, senior class president and a National Honor Society member, said during Tuesday’s protest. “The only problem is, it’s on the verge of becoming a bad school.”

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SOME BLAME TRANSFER STUDENTS

Q. Some students are blaming rising violence at Kennedy High on 190 kids who entered the school since Oct. 1. Where did these kids come from?

A. About a fifth came from foreign countries or other states, including Poland, Mexico, Yugoslavia, Wisconsin, Texas and Hawaii, CPS spokesman Michael Vaughn said. Others came from Catholic or suburban schools or other Chicago public schools, with no more than 10 students arriving from any one school, Vaughn said. A third are special education students, meaning they have learning, behavioral or physical disabilities.

Q. Why did students arrive after the start of the school year?

A. Some came directly from other countries. Some apparently moved into Kennedy’s attendance area after school started, CPS officials said. Some also may have moved into the attendance area of an overcrowded school but were assigned to Kennedy because it’s not overcrowded. “We have a high mobility rate, and the Southwest Side is the most overcrowded part of the city,” Vaughn said. At neighboring Gage Park High, which is overcrowded, Principal Wilfredo Ortiz said three new students showed up Tuesday, and he has received about 200 new kids since Oct 1. He estimated not more than 10 of them were transferred to Kennedy, which had spaces available in a bilingual Spanish program, which many of them needed.

Q. Why were the kids who beat the Kennedy honor student and broke his nose charged with misdemeanor battery?

A. Generally, a felony aggravated battery charge requires use of a deadly weapon or “great bodily harm” to the victim, according to authorities. Police decided the case was a misdemeanor and did not refer it to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office for possible felony charges, Chicago Police spokeswoman Monique Bond said. She said prosecutors can upgrade the charges if that’s warranted.

Q. Was this a hate crime?

A. Although the victim was white and the alleged attackers were black, “there doesn’t appear to be any indication that this would be a hate crime,” Bond said.

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