Warren Twp. students rally around classmate forced to switch schools
Warren Township High School students donned T-shirts in a show of support Wednesday for a classmate who'll be forced to attend another school next year because of a court-ordered boundary change.
Nikhil Patel, a sophomore at the Gurnee school, is among five students whose homes no longer are within Warren District 121 boundaries. They are to continue their educations next year in Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128.
As part of a Twitter campaign backing Patel's ongoing fight to remain at Warren for his last two years of high school, an estimated 80 students at the school's O'Plaine Road freshman-sophomore campus wore black shirts reading #SaveNikhil to class Wednesday.
"The goal is to draw attention to the issue, which we have accomplished by walking through hallways and the office with large groups of shirts," Patel said.
Last month, Patel asked school board members to let him and the other students from the Lancaster subdivision in southern Waukegan to remain at the high school. Patel said he wants to graduate from the school where he started.
However, six of the seven board members voted not to veer from Warren's policy prohibiting out-of-district students, citing concern about setting a precedent. Board President John Anderson reiterated Wednesday he sympathizes with the students' situation.
District 121 Superintendent Mary Perry Bates said she was aware of Wednesday's T-shirt effort at O'Plaine. She stressed the problem was created when the Lancaster subdivision property owners petitioned to be switched from Warren and Gurnee-based Woodland Elementary District 50 into District 128 and Oak Grove Elementary District 68.
"I absolutely appreciate (Patel's) passion and his courage in advocating for himself, and I realize that from the kids' perspective, this is just mean-spirited," Bates said. "I don't expect them to know or understand the legal issues, or that Nikhil's parents' tax dollars will be going to Libertyville and not to Warren."
Bates added that District 121 is at significant legal risk if it makes an exception for the Lancaster students and excludes other out-of-district students
"Once people engage in a legal process all parties must accept the court's decision," she added.
An Illinois appellate court last year upheld a trial judge's decision removing the Lancaster homes from Warren and Woodland and placing them in districts 128 and 68.
In 2012, a petition was filed with the Lake County Regional Office of Education to have the Lancaster neighborhood and surrounding area -- about 63 acres wedged between the Tri-State Tollway and O'Plaine Road -- disconnected from Warren and Woodland. Patel's parents were among the subdivision's residents seeking the disconnection.
All four school districts opposed the boundary change initiated by 130 of 150 registered voters from the subdivision. Residents didn't question the education at Warren and Woodland but in part cited less travel time and an ability for the Lancaster students to attend school with their friends in districts 128 and 68.
Regional office of education board members rejected the petition, but the Lancaster residents succeeded in getting the decision overturned in Lake County court.
Patel said he's enrolled at Libertyville High School for the 2015-16 school year in case he can't continue at Warren.