5 city teens held after trying to see schools chief

Students refused to leave after being denied meeting

May 18, 2004|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

Five city school students who refused to leave school chief Bonnie S. Copeland's office unless they could meet with her were detained yesterday in an act of civil disobedience they said echoed the struggles of African-Americans 50 years ago.

The students said they wanted to talk to Copeland about what they see as the failure of the state to adequately fund the city school system. Schools officials said the students were asked to leave because they were disorderly and making too much noise.

The students, who all attend the city's best high schools, were kept in a room on the first floor of the North Avenue headquarters building and allowed to leave with their parents about an hour later.

"I don't mind getting arrested for my education," said Chelsea Carson, a sophomore at City College.

Students said they had asked Copeland last week for an appointment but never received a confirmation. When they arrived at her office, they were told she was in a meeting and they refused to leave, saying they would wait for her. They were then escorted out by school police.

Carson and the others were not arrested, but were held until their parents arrived, said public information officer, Edie House.

Carson is one of a group of city students who have been campaigning for several months to get school and elected officials to join them in an effort to put pressure on the state to give city schools a $200 million-a-year increase in state funding.

In 2000, Baltimore Circuit Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan ruled the state should provide the schools with at least $2,000 more per student - more than $200 million every year. Carson said the students were promised yesterday that Copeland would meet with them in the future.

As the students tried to get the attention of Copeland inside the building, about 40 students rallied outside the headquarters, speaking about the needs in city schools today.

Unique Robinson, a junior at City College, read a poem she had written in which she made reference to the historic Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision a half-century ago that segregated schools were unconstitutional.

"Reverse history," Robinson's poem began. "Let's just pretend that the judge did nothing to integrate those color lines, and those broken African-American classrooms, and those broken steps that the students used to enter those schools. We'd be in the same predicament that we are now, 'cuz honestly, in 50 years, I haven't seen any progress."

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