Supporters seek relief for expelled BC student

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The one-year expulsion of a Bogue Chitto Attendance Centerstudent for bringing a knife to school should be overturned and thezero tolerance policy on weapons relaxed, says the student’s motherand a group of local National Association for the Advancement ofColored People officials.

Brookhaven-Lincoln County and area NAACP members pleaded withthe Lincoln County School Board Monday night to overturn theexpulsion of 16-year-old Tesheon Rogers, who was expelled for theremainder of the school year for bringing a knife to school on Oct6. Rogers’ mother, Jeanet Brown, said her daughter forgot to removethe knife from her backpack, which was used to carry a sack lunchand fishing supplies during a recent fishing trip.

The board took no action Monday night following a closed meetingwith the student and parent and after hearing from others in opensession. District superintendent Terry Brister declined to commenton the student matter.

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The Rev. Frank Lee, first vice president of the Pike CountyNAACP, said Rogers should still be punished, but in a less severemanner, given her academic success and clean record.

“No society can exist without being temperate and with mercy,”Lee told the board. “The penalty delivered to her was most severe.There should have been something else than throwing her out ofschool. With her record, this is tremendously harsh.”

Lee went on to say that Rogers has encountered bullying at BogueChitto. He requested and received a copy of the district’s studenthandbook, which lays out punishments for harassment. Rogers’supporters claim the girl never produced the knife at school, butthat it fell onto the floor after she bumped her desk whilescuffling with a class bully.

Lee called bullying a “deep, entrenched, rooted” problem theNAACP has found in local schools. He also questioned the practiceof school administrators taking statements from students followingincidents such as Rogers’, statements he said were later usedagainst the student in discipline hearings.

“We want some kind of representation for these kids when they’restriking these statements,” he said. “They’re just minors, andsometimes they don’t think right.”

NAACP member Roy Smith called the expulsion a “death sentence,”saying expelling a child from school is the beginning of a paththat leads to criminality and prison.

“Children of color are more apt to be penalized and scrutinizedfor the least little things,” he said. “For 80 percent of childrenof color, the pipeline to prison starts at school. Punishment isdue, but expulsion from school is not the answer.”

Bernetta Character, president of the Brookhaven-Lincoln Countychapter of the NAACP, suggested Rogers be placed in alternativeschool until the beginning of the 2010-11 school year.

Rogers’ aunt, Melissa Singleton, said her niece has never beenin any trouble, makes good grades and participates in athletics.She said Rogers simply made one mistake and should not beexpelled.

“As far as these laws, this zero tolerance crap, that’s out thewindow,” Singleton said. “There should be an exception. Shedeserves a second chance. If she had a gun last year or aswitchblade the year before that, if she’s been suspended three orfour times, I’d understand. You gotta put your child in thissituation.”

Rogers’ strongest outside defense came from Smithdale’s MelvinTobias, who had been in a similar situation before the LincolnCounty School Board.

Tobias addressed the board members by their first names andrecalled when his son, Ricky Tobias, was disciplined for not onlybringing a knife to school but possessing an open beer. Thesituation was resolved, he said, and his son now serves as acaptain in the U.S. Air Force.

But Superintendent Brister, speaking for the first time, pointedout that things have changed since Tobias’ day.

“Back then we could do more,” Brister said. “There were thingsyou could have room with. Now, with the zero tolerance policy,whammo! The thing has changed since then. We’re only abiding by therules.”

District One board member Kay Coon echoed Brister’s defense.

“We want the child to be in school, but it’s kind of out of ourhands,” she said.

Rogers’ case is being handled in youth court, officials said.WAPT reported she is undergoing court-ordered anger managementclasses and must pay a $250 fine to the school district.