School officials say law allows student in class

Published 6:00 am Friday, January 10, 2003

The return of a Brookhaven High School student to class afterposting bond for a Monday arrest on a charge of armed robbery hasschool officials and parents at odds over school policy, and schoolofficials watching the situation closely.

At issue with some parents is the decision by school officialsnot to send a 17-year-old BHS student to alternative school at EvaHarris.

“Law supersedes policy,” said James Tillman, assistantsuperintendent of the Brookhaven School District. “We can’t denyhim the right to attend school. He’s only been charged, notconvicted.”

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Tillman said he can understand the concern of parents.

“I think the main thing we and the parents are concerned aboutare safety factors,” said the assistant superintendent. “We have apolice officer on campus every day, so I think the safety isthere.

“We will not tolerate any misbehavior. I can assure (parents) ofthat,” he added.

Tillman noted this was not the first time an accused student hasattended classes.

In the late 1970s, a Brookhaven youth in a lawsuit that broughtnational media attention, was ordered to be allowed to return toclasses after his conviction for armed robbery was overturned bythe Mississippi Supreme Court. Bubba May, a 12-year-old Brookhavenyouth, was convicted for armed robbery of several fireworksstands.

After an armed robbery of a local fast food restaurant Monday,John David Brown, 17, of 856 Lewis Drive, and Robert E. Connley,17, of 845 Lewis Drive, were arrested and charged. They werereleased on bond Tuesday. Brown is a BHS graduate and Connley is asenior this year.

“They’re only charged. They haven’t been convicted,” BrookhavenPolice Chief Pap Henderson said Thursday. “I don’t know what schoolpolicy is, but we can’t deny them bond.”

Anyone charged with a crime is innocent until proven guilty in acourt of law and is entitled to their rights, Henderson said.

According to school policy, students accused of disruptingclasses or who cause problems on school campuses are generallytransferred to Eva Harris Alternative School. Parents havequestioned why Connley is back in his normal classes and not at EvaHarris.

“That’s a whole different ball game,” Tillman said. “We’re intotal control when it happens on school grounds. When the incidentis done on the weekend or after school we don’t have all the factsand we are not in control.”

One concerned parent, John Lynch, expressed concern over theschool’s decision. “I disagree with not considering off campusincidents influencing whether the alternative school is an option,”Lynch said.

School officials said they were continuing to review thesituation over the weekend.