KENWOOD — Hundreds of students at a South Side selective enrollment high school walked out of class and staged a three-hour sit-in Thursday, saying they were upset over new policies at the school and demanding the school's principal resign.
Most of the 900 students at King College Prep, 4445 S. Drexel Blvd., showed their disapproval for the school’s policies Thursday morning by participating in the sit-in in the foyer of the building and also in the gym and hallways, students and teachers at the school said.
The sit-in was started by seniors at the school who said they were upset by new policies instituted by the new principal, Shontae M. Higginbottom.
Students said they were upset about policy changes that don't allow them to wait for a ride home while inside the building or to return to the school for afterschool programs if they leave the building after dismissal at 3:15 p.m. They also said they were not allowed to use school computers after dismissal.
“Many rules have been put in place that are unfair to us, so we organized the sit-in,” said Yasmine Morris, a senior who said she was involved in organizing the protest on social networks last night.
Some were upset they can't leave the lunchroom without a pass to go to a computer lab or other spots at the school.
“Some of us might not have computers at home,” Morris said.
The sit-in was led by a group of approximately 30 seniors who started the sit-in in the foyer, according to students who witnessed and participated in the protest. Many students knew about the coming sit-in from Twitter and Facebook, but many were also caught off guard.
Deatria Johnson's son, a junior, didn't know what was happening when he showed up to class at 8:15 a.m. and there was no teacher and only a handful of other students.
“He called me to find out what to do because he didn't know what to do,” said Johnson, who had gone to the Kenwood school to find her son. “I called the office and didn't get a response.”
“A lot of students didn't know what was going on,” said music teacher Benjamin Washington, who has taught at the school since 2001.
Teachers joined the sit-in and some told students to leave their classes to attend the protest, according to students and teachers.
Many teachers are upset that lesson planning is now mandatory and are afraid of being replaced, Washington said.
Wednesday, students saw Coach Ronald “Louie” Stewart Jr. being disciplined in the hallway for allowing students to re-enter the building after hours. Many students feared Stewart was fired, which drove a group of seniors to promote the sit-in. Stewart has not been fired and remains a teacher at the school.
Students that organized the protest said they met with the Local School Council Wednesday to address concerns.
“We didn't come to a solution yet because it's bigger than just listing our problems,” said Jamira Johnson, a senior who attended the meeting.
Other students said they felt the tighter disciplinary rules were not helping.
“We've had problems at King, but who doesn't?” Morris said, adding that there have been more fights since the new policy was put in place.
Parents said they were aware that some students did not appreciate the rule changes, but did not know the level of discontent ran so deeply in the student body.
“It tells me as a parent I have to make all the meetings,” said one who identified herself as Ms. Taylor and declined to give her first name out of fear of retribution against her sophomore son by teachers or administrators.
The sit-in lasted nearly three hours as students headed back to class at 11 a.m.
Some students felt they had not gone far enough.
"The main person who needed to hear us, our principal, didn't hear us," Johnson said.
Chicago Public Schools officials said they "met with a group of students" at King Thursday morning to address their concerns.
"We will ensure that the lines of communication with these students continue to be open as we move forward," a CPS spokesman said in a statement.
No school officials were available for comment at the scene. CPS security asked reporters to leave a courtyard near the school.