CHAMPAIGN – Nicole Causley's son went to school Wednesday. But he might not be at Central High School much longer, she says.
Causley and her sister, Natalie Freeman, say they will take their children out of the Champaign school district in protest of the decision to put armed police officers in the schools. They are asking other parents to do the same.
The Champaign school district and city council this week approved the school resource officer program, which will put officers in the middle and high schools beginning in the fall.
Freeman is concerned about unequal treatment for black children because the Champaign school district is under a consent decree in which the educational achievement and discipline of black children is being monitored, and because a study released last year showed minorities are more likely to be pulled over for traffic stops by Champaign police.
"We already know the children who are going to be targeted (by the officers) are African-American," she said.
She said many black parents don't support police in the schools, but she is calling on all parents who have concerns about the program to boycott the district.
"All my customers who have come in today are parents who have children in the Unit 4 school district," said Freeman, who owns the Anointed Hands Beauty Salon. "Every last one of them is going to fill out the home school application and pull their children out of the schools."
She and Causley have contacted churches to donate space for the children, and they are trying to line up tutors through a University of Illinois graduate student in education. They also are passing out home school applications to other parents in the black community.
"We're not asking people to pull their kids out of the schools and have no other resources for them," Freeman said.
"If the statistics are showing that our kids aren't learning anyway, what is it going to hurt to pull your kids out? They are still going to be taught, and let's see if they can do a better job than the district does," she said.
Champaign Superintendent Arthur Culver said he believes strongly the school resource officers will benefit the school district, and the district will monitor the officers closely to ensure the concerns of the parents don't become a reality.
"I understand some people are not in agreement with the SRO program. They're disappointed, and they have concerns," Culver said. "But I really hope, prior to making those kind of quick decisions, they would at least give us the chance to implement the program."
He also said the school district can offer more to students than home schooling, including a more enriching social experience, more course offerings, advanced placement classes and support services for students with special needs.
But Causley is concerned the police officers won't have the training to deal with those children with special needs, such as autism, or those from different cultures.
"They're giving them 40 hours of training and expecting them to be social workers and educate our kids," she said.
She and Freeman said if some of the children kept out of school are impoverished, that will pressure the district by depriving it of federal aid through Title 1 and the school lunch program, as well as affecting attendance, on which state aid is based.
But school officials say keeping children out of school for the rest of this academic year won't have an impact. The Title 1 aid is based on the number of children enrolled in the free and reduced-price lunch program at the beginning of the academic year. And state aid is based on the best three months of attendance, which are usually in the fall.