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School Where Principal Fired is Hit by Disturbance

March 2, 1990

CHICAGO (AP) _ Police clashed with hundreds of students, leaving 11 people injured, in a disturbance apparently sparked by a principal’s firing by one of the city’s new community school councils.

Nine students at Morgan Park High School on the South Side were arrested Thursday, charged under deliquency petitions and released to their parents, police said. At least seven students and four police officers were treated for injuries, the most serious being cuts that required stitches.

The confrontation was the most violent of several protests in recent days against the firing of principals under Chicago’s new school reform program.

Councils elected for each of Chicago’s 540 public schools in October have the power to hire and fire principals, and a handful have done so in recent weeks. Some of the more controversial firings have involved white principals at mostly Hispanic schools.

Board of Education spokesman Bob Saigh said he didn’t know if the Morgan Park incident was racially motivated. But it appeared to have been triggered by the local council’s decision to dismiss Principal Walter Pilditch when his contract expires in June.

″I do feel that the local school council is at least in part to blame for it,″ said Eric Landahl, a student who is a non-voting member of the council governing the high school.

Of the 1,800 students, 60 percent are black, 24 percent white, 12 percent Hispanic and 4 percent Asian. Pilditch is white.

″Morgan Park has been an integrated school since my grandmother went here in the 1930s,″ Landahl said. ″With the exception of the period in the ’60s, there has never been any trouble like this.″

All groups took part in a protest rally Thursday morning in front of the school, where students chanted ″We want Pilditch.″

Later, a fire alarm was pulled and the school evacuated. Some students returned to the building when no fire was found. But then the alarm was pulled again and again, Pilditch said.

″That kind of stirs things up,″ he said.

A couple of squad cars arrived and students began throwing snowballs at the officers and at the school windows, said Phonda Wiles, a 15-year-old student.

The officers called for reinforcements, and about 20 squad cars pulled up, Pilditch said.

Geri Pettis, 15, said she was struck in the head by police as she tried to return to class following one of the false alarms.

″Police were screaming ’Get back, get back,‴ she said. ″The next thing I know I was hit over the head.″

The charges of excessive force ″are kind of ridiculous,″ said Patrolman Thomas Lynch. ″There were hundreds of kids there and a very limited number of police officers.″ He said about a dozen officers were involved.

Pilditch said he didn’t know who pulled the alarm, so he had no way of knowing the motive for the disturbance.

″The sun was shining and it was a nice day, maybe that was the reason,″ he said.

The councils are part of a decentralization program begun in 1988 to improve the country’s third-biggest school system, which has 410,000 students.

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