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Despite bus boycott, Waukegan school attendance at 90 percent

Whittier Elementary School students begtheir school day Friday. Parents were organizing boycott schools because busing. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

Whittier Elementary School students begin their school day on Friday. Parents were organizing a boycott of the schools because of busing. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 11, 2011 12:57PM

The call for a boycott to protest new busing policies at Waukegan Public Schools did result in lower attendance than usual at two of the district’s 23 schools on Friday, but overall attendance in the 16,000-student district was still above 90 percent for the day.

District spokesman Nicholas Alajakis said average attendance at all district buildings, including the two main high school campuses, was around 90.5 percent. By comparison, the September average for the 2010-11 school year was 95 percent.

Alajakis said the dip in Friday’s percentage could be traced to a 72 percent turnout at Whittier Elementary, 901 N. Lewis Ave., and 79 percent at Jefferson Middle School, 600 S. Lewis. Parents at both of those buildings have been most vocal in protesting the district’s cuts in student busing.

For the 2011-12 school year, bus transportation is only being provided to students who live more than 1.5 miles from school, a move that increased the number of students classified as “walkers” from 4,352 to 6,091.

District officials have stated that the move was made to save some $1 million in costs, and Superintendent Donaldo Batiste reported this week that there is a $10 million deficit in the transportation fund.

A group called Parents United In Waukegan, working with the League of United Latin American Citizens, protested the cuts at two board meetings in recent weeks, citing concerns about children walking along streets without sidewalks and through busy intersections.

Leaders of the group then called for Friday’s boycott, noting that parents who wish to continue keeping their children home to protest beyond Friday were being advised to do so at their discretion.

Attempts to reach LULAC spokeswoman Julie Contrares for comment Friday were not successful, but she said prior to the boycott that she guessed that about 1,000 students would participate.

All told, around 1,500 students did not attend school on Friday, but that total would include students who were ill and those serving a suspension. It would also include high school students, who are not included in bus service to begin with, and would not have been directly affected by the changes.

According to Alajakis, attendance at the high schools was around 90 percent, and many elementary and middle schools had more than 95 percent of their students come to class, including Jack Benny (96 percent), Little Fort (96 percent), Andrew Cooke (97 percent) and Miguel Juarez (98 percent).

Also on Friday, the district announced that Batiste plans to meet with representatives from Parents United In Waukegan and LULAC on Monday to discuss the overall situation.

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