Courts & Crime

Illinois district's board expels 2 students over bus attack

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BELLEVILLE, Ill. — Belleville Township High School District 201's school board voted unanimously Monday to expel two Belleville West students involved in an attack on a school bus last week for the remainder of this school year and all of next year, the maximum amount of time allowed by state law.

During that time, the two students are not allowed to attend or participate in school activities.

"I hope that this sends a very, very clear message that this type of conduct has never been tolerated and will never be tolerated," board President Curt Highsmith said. "Kids deserve the right to get an education, to go to school, to feel safe. ... We will work to the ends of the earth to ensure this."

Belleville police originally said the attack appeared to be racially motivated but now consider it to be a case of bullying.

The Rev. John Curry, pastor of Conqueror's Christian Center in Belleville and the host of several race relations dialogues in the metro-east, said the attack and the community's response to it is an opportunity for progress.

"Race relations in Belleville is still needed on a major scale," Curry said. "This is the greatest opportunity for the city in a long time to be proactive and move forward. The city has come too far, and there's a lot more work to be done."

Curry, who is black, said the black community's response to the attack is what concerns him most, suspecting it would have been more outraged had the attackers been white and the victim black.

"We should be just as outraged. The whole community should be outraged and trying to support the victim," he said. "Where's the outcry? He's a white kid, but he bleeds too."

Alicia Bradley's 16-year-old son is a junior at Belleville West. She's concerned about the racial tension the bus fight has seemingly stirred.

She questioned the police department's decision to release the video, saying it jeopardized students' safety and affected outsiders' view of the city.

Bradley noticed on blogs and through national media commentators that the incident has sparked reaction from "extremists" on the topic of race, and she thinks that puts Belleville residents' and students' lives in danger.

"The hate that was in those messages was the most unnerving and insecure feeling," she said.

And she said school leaders aren't the only ones that need to address racial tension.

"We need to think about how we can rally our city together, as well," she said.

A security video caught the attack, in which two students attacked another on a bus Sept. 14. The two teens expelled have been charged with felonies in the attack: A 14-year-old has been charged with three counts of aggravated battery, and a 15-year-old has been charged with two counts of aggravated battery and a misdemeanor property damage charge.

The 14-year-old was arrested Friday and held in the county Juvenile Detention Center during the weekend. St. Clair County Associate Judge Walter Brandon released the boy to his father Monday. The boy was ordered to remain on 24-hour curfew except for "educational and evaluation purposes."The 15-year-old was not in custody Monday afternoon and did not appear before Brandon.

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