Illinois Public Media News
What could be one of the final court hearings on the Champaign school district's consent decree is uncovering some doubt over a proposed settlement.
A federal judge invited written public comment on the proposal that would end seven years of court supervision over racial equity issues in Unit 4. On Tuesday, some of those commenters testified in person.
Before those people spoke, Champaign superintendent Arthur Culver answered a concern from Judge Joe Billy McDade that the public skepticism may stem from what happens in individual school - in other words, some staff may revert back to old habits or not share the same concern for equity.
I think it's clear that we're serous about this work," said Culver. "If our staff members aren't coming to work with the same vision and mission that we have set for this district, then there are consequences."
Part of the settlement includes a new committee to oversee future equity issues, such as alternative education or student assignment. Ardice James, with the National Council of African American Men worries that the Education Equity Excellence committee may not have any teeth.
"Who would this committee report to?" asked James. "I feel that this committee should report to the board and more or less be advisory. I also believe that any recommendation that this committee proposes, that the Board of Education should consider that recommendation very strongly."
But Carol Ashley, an attorney for the plaintiffs whose suit led to the consent decree, says that committee will be guided by a third party. It's not known when Judge McDade will decide to accept or deny the settlement.
The hearing was a rare event for a federal court in central Illinois. After initially ruling that television crews could videotape the courtroom hearing -- a rarity in the federal court system -- Judge Mc Dade responded to complaints from radio newspaper reporters and opened recording to all media. McDade told reporters before the hearing that he had made a mistake in believing he was approving one station's request to broadcast the entire hearing live, and he opened the hearing up to all recording devices out of fairness.
Representatives of the Champaign Unit Four School District and the plaintiffs in its consent decree meet this morning in Peoria to discuss a possible settlement.
School Board President Dave Tomlinson says such meetings are common prior to a court hearing. He says it gives both parties a chance to reach an amicable agreement out of court. However, Tomlinson says if any proposals about the Consent Decree come about, they won't come from the school district.
"The plaintiff's wouldn't be making any offers to settle so the district's not making any offers to settle. We're certainly willing to hear those offers if there are some made," Tomlinson said.
Neither Tomlinson or Plaintiffs attorney Carol Ashley would comment on whether attorneys for the plaintiffs will make any proposals at the settlement conference. But Tomlinson has called two special school board meetings --- for Tuesday and Wednesday nights --- to discuss the Consent Decree behind closed doors. The federal court hearing on the Consent Decree is scheduled for next week.
The Consent Decree on racial equity was due to expire this summer, but attorneys for the Plaintiffs want to extend it in three areas --- special education, alternative education and new classrooms on Champaign's north side. They say Unit Four has not made sufficient or fast enough progress in those areas. The school district says they've made progress and that any efforts that fell short were still made in good faith.
A coalition of groups in Champaign-Urbana's minority community says the police shooting death of Toto Kaiyewu raises questions about officer procedure when several departments investigate a suspect.
The African-American medical student from Texas was killed on April 6th following a police chase that ended on Interstate 74 near Oakwood. Officers from the Champaign County Sheriff's Department, Vermilion County, and the University of Illinois fired at Kaiyewu after they say he came at them with a machete. Aaron Ammons with CU Citizens for Peace and Justice is among those who question the initial distress call by a Villa Grove police officer. He says that heightened the intensity of the police chase that preceded the shooting, and such actions haven't seen an appropriate follow-up:
"Since Mr. Kaiyewu has been analyzed and scrutinized from every angle, we believe that it is fair and impartial that each officer involved receive the same treatment,' says Ammons. "We think that is the type of accountability and transparency that is necessary to maintain the public trust in our police departments. We don't think that's unreasonable to ask," This week, a Vermilion County Coroner's jury called the shooting of Kaiyewu a justifiable homicide. An extensive report by state police reveals that he suffered from mental illness. But Tracy Parsons of Urbana says the medical records don't justify the crime, citing 'inconsistencies' in the reports from the officers interviewed.
The groups say they plan a July public viewing of the police videotape of Kaiyewu's actions on the night of his death.
University of Illinois students from Iran say it's incumbent upon foreign media to spread the word of protests in their country following the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
More than 40 of these students and their friends rallied in downtown Champaign Monday. One of them, going by the name 'M', says while election fraud in his country is nothing new, two things separate Friday's votes from elections past. M says the huge voter turnout is part of a new reformist agenda there, and that the large military presence during the violent protests is a result Ahmedinejad's ties to the officers. But he says pro-reform candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi will learn through foreign press that he has the support to challenge election results.
"We think that media is the guardians of democracy,' says M. "We think think that reporters are soldiers of freedom. Our reporters inside Iran, our media, is shot down inside Iran. We expect from the reporters and the foreign media to spread information inside Iran." M says if information of election fraud is spread, the military is faced with either waging civil war against 2 million people, or giving in to their demands. A high-level clerical panel called the Guardian Council is expected to investigate the claims of voter fraud.
The Champaign school district's Consent Decree has been extended a few weeks past its scheduled June 30th expiration date --- due to scheduling problems with the judge overseeing the case. Federal Judge Joe Billy McDade has extended the racial equity decree until he can schedule a hearing on motions filed by plaintiffs in the case. School Board President Dave Tomlinson says McDade had no open dates in June --- and the hearing may not be held until July 20th or later.
Tomlinson and plaintiffs attorney Carol Ashley says this extension of the Consent Decree is only due to scheduling problems. Ashley is seeking a multi-year extension until the Unit Four school district works out problems she says remain with achieving goals set by the decree. But Tomlinson says the district has made a good-faith effort towards all the Consent Decree goals.He says the district's objections to the extension were overturned.
A federal judge has turned down a request from the plaintiffs in the Champaign Unit Four Consent Decree case for more hearings.
Attorneys for plaintiffs in the racial equity case had requested hearings on its motions to extend the Consent Decree past June 30th. They also wanted a comprehensive hearing on whether the Champaign school district had been acting in good faith in all its actions to meet the requirements of the decree. But Judge Joe Billy McDade ruled Monday that the decree does not require such hearings.
Unit Four School Board President Dave Tomlinson says he's pleased with the judge's decision. He says the move will limit hearings in the Consent Decree case to whether the district has met specific requirements in special and alternative education and building new classrooms on the north side of Champaign. He denied charges from the plaintiff's attorney that opposing a comprehensive hearing was an attempt to shut out public comment. "This is a court document and we have to fight this in court," Tomlinson said.
Plaintiffs' attorney Carol Ashley could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.
The family of a medical student from Texas shot and killed by sheriff's police near Oakwood early this month is accusing authorities of racial profiling.
Speaking in Urbana Wednesday, the parents and brothers of Oluwatofunmi Kaiyewu also say his death on the evening of April 6th was the result of a cover-up. The 23-year old man known as Toto was initially pulled over by a Villa Grove police officer, who said he was investigating a suspicious vehicle. The officer said he tried to strike him with the car... and a pursuit began on Interstate-74 that included sheriff's police from Champaign and Vermilion Counties, and the University of Illinois. After stopping the car, officers say they fired at Kaiyewu when he came at them with a machete and hunting knife. His mother Abbi says the vehicle was called 'suspicious' solely because a black man was behind the wheel. She calls her son a non-violent person only trying to study that night. "You don't take a machete to the library," says Mrs. Kaiyewu. "He was not expected to have this encounter. He was not expecting to die. He was just going to the library. He was not going to the war zone. So why would he take a machete and a hunting knife from his room to go to the library? It doesn't make sense."
Abbi Kaiyewu notes that police haven't been able to produce a video of what occurred after her son was stopped near Oakwood. Illinois State Police are still conducting an investigation, but in a press release issued by the agencies involved, Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh cites video evidence of Toto Kaiyewu physically assaulting the Villa Grove officer and holding the machete after the vehicle was stopped. And he dismisses any claim of racial profiling, saying there was no intial reason for an old Toyota to appear suspicious.
"I think the particluar facts, when they all come out, are actually going to be that the (Villa Grove) officer was behind the vehicle, and the gentlement stopped in the roadway and went back to the officer," says Walsh. "The gentlemen stopped before the officer turned on his lights or anything like that." Part of the joint statement released by the agencies involved in the shooting reads 'it is sad and horrible for Mr. Kaiyewu's family that things ended as they did, but Mr. Kaiyewu's actions controlled the outcome.'
The Kaiyewu's attorney, Jan Susler of Chicago, says Freedom of Information requests have been filed with all police departments for all evidence related to the incident, but adds a lawsuit could be filed at any time.
The words "at risk" are often pinned on African-American males for several reasons. They're considered less likely to finish high school, more likely to have been in prison, and subject to greater health problems and shorter life spans. Now, recently signed legislation has set up a state task force to study these problems and report on possible solutions. And for the past four weeks, Illinois' Task Force on the Condition of African-American Males has been gathering community input at town hall meetings around the state. The task force held one of its meetings in Urbana. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports.
The next director of American Indian Studies at the University of Illinois says the debate over Chief Illiniwek severely hampered the program in the past. Robert Warrior (left), currently an English professor at the University of Oklahoma, says the symbol's retirement brings a unique opportunity when he takes over the program this fall. He told AM 580's Jeff Bossert that the change at the UI led him to accept the job.
For the sellout crowd at the Assembly Hall in Champaign February 21, the big highlight wasn't Illinois' victory over Michigan, but the last appearance of Chief Illiniwek. The Chief has plenty of critics -- but at the game, supporters showed how much they loved him. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports.
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