CHICAGO (CN) – Eleven students say Chicago Public Schools effectively barred them from high school by condoning student “mob attacks” against them because they live in public housing. They say the Board of Education’s failure to address the tension and violence at Fenger High School led to a videotaped attack upon Derrion Albert, who was beaten to death in September with nail-spiked boards.
Albert’s killing prompted the latest round of violence that has caused the teen-agers to fear for their lives and miss school, they say in their federal complaint.
The students say the school board denied them promised transfers to other public schools, including George Washington Carver, the school nearest to their neighborhood, Altgeld Gardens.
The school board converted Carver to a military academy and reduced its capacity, and most students in its neighborhood were rezoned and bused to Fenger, according to the complaint.
Fenger is on Chicago’s South Side. Much of Altgeld Gardens is below the poverty line. Fenger students who live in the “projects” say they were beaten daily by groups of students, while school administrators and security did nothing to protect them. Security workers watched the “horrific violent acts” or responded with violent methods of their own, the students say.
Fenger was violent even before Derrion’s recorded and Internet-circulated murder, but is now “even more out of control,” says 15-year-old plaintiff Brianna R.
She says school administrators, security and the police are part of the problem because they do not protect her from constant violence that “makes learning impossible.”
The students Chicago Public School security punished two plaintiffs, 14- and 15-year-old Alton and Alex S., after watching 10 students attack them. Their mother, Joanne White, has since kept them out of school, saying she does not “want to be Derrion Albert’s mother.”
While some students refuse to return to Fenger, where hallways are secured by heavy chains and gates, others want to go but have been locked out by officials or detained in locked rooms, the complaint states. Some of the student plaintiffs want to transfer but others, such as Kenyatta B., say the Chicago Public School and the Chicago Police should provide better security and stop the fights.
Students say they were denied transfers to several schools, including Carver, despite parent requests before and after Derrion’s murder.
The district promised to get children out of Fenger, and say that School Board President Michael Scott promised mother Cassandra White-Robinson that he and staff would meet residents in Altgeld. The plaintiff families say they distributed flyers for the event, but as hundreds of residents waited, Scott failed to show and the City canceled the event.
The students say the Chicago school board has denied them their right to a public education, without due process, by endangering, barring, detaining and refusing to safeguard or transfer them, and by denying them a place conducive to learning and a physically accessible school.
They seek injunctive relief and punitive damages. They are represented by Christopher Cooper.