Jackson Leads 2,000 in March

DECATUR, Ill.--A standoff over the expulsion of six black students for fighting continued yesterday as Jesse L. Jackson led a chanting group of about 2,000 people through the streets and threatened to provoke mass arrests unless the dispute ends soon.

Jackson told the crowd he would visit the schools Tuesday morning to demonstrate and force authorities to arrest him. He asked how many would be willing to join him in jail. Hundreds of people raised their hands.

"On Tuesday morning, we're going to cross the line," he said. "If Dr. [Martin Luther] King could do it in Birmingham . . . and [Nelson] Mandela could do it in South Africa, we can do it in Decatur."

The six students were expelled for two school years after allegedly taking part in a brawl in the stands at a football game Sept. 17. A seventh withdrew from school during expulsion hearings. The students are black, but Jackson has said it is not a question of racism but whether the students were treated fairly.

Jackson led a similar march Nov. 7, prompting officials to close high schools for the next two days for fear of trouble. Gov. George Ryan (R) stepped in to negotiate an agreement, prodding the local school board to trim the expulsions to one year and let the students attend alternative education programs. But Jackson wants the students returned more quickly. He and state school Superintendent Glenn "Max" McGee have proposed a panel to review the students' conduct and grades in January; those who are doing well might be allowed back in the classroom then. Last night, McGee indicated he was withdrawing his personal involvement in trying to negotiate a solution.

ValuJet Contractor Goes on Trial

MIAMI--A maintenance contractor driven out of business by the fallout from the ValuJet crash goes on trial today in an unprecedented criminal pursuit in an aviation disaster. Investigators spread blame for the 1996 Florida Everglades crash among the maintenance contractor--SabreTech--the airline and the Federal Aviation Administration. But the indictment, believed to be the first to bring criminal charges against a company for a commercial jet crash, focused on SabreTech's work for the airline.

A SabreTech crew had removed outdated oxygen generators from another ValuJet plane and delivered them to the discount carrier for a flight to its home in Atlanta. But required plastic safety caps were not installed on the explosive-tipped generators. They were mislabeled as empty, and a ValuJet ground crew loaded them onto Flight 592. The National Transportation Safety Board concluded the generators fueled a cargo fire that brought down the DC-9 about 11 minutes after takeoff from Miami, killing all 110 people on board.

Federal prosecutors charged SabreTech, a maintenance vice president and two mechanics with conspiracy and making false entries on repair documents. The company also is charged with causing placement of destructive devices on an aircraft under a law intended to attack terrorism.