Mississippi Delta students staying home to protest high school consolidation

Published 8:34 pm Wednesday, August 22, 2018

SHELBY, Miss. (AP) — Some Mississippi Delta families are keeping children off campus to protest the consolidation of two high schools.

The boycott is led by JFK United, whose members oppose merging John F. Kennedy Memorial High School in Mound Bayou with Broad Street High School in Shelby, the Bolivar Commercial reported. The new school, Northside High, is on the former Broad Street campus.

JFK United chairman Gil Thompson said that because of a boycott, five school buses arrived empty at Northside when the academic year started Monday.

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Legislators consolidated the Mound Bayou and North Bolivar school districts, and the local school board decided early this year to consolidate some schools to save money amid a continued decrease in enrollment. Mound Bayou school supporters sued to try to stop the merger of the high schools, saying the new school board was biased against the nearly all-black town. Mound Bayou was founded by former slaves in 1887. Both high schools being merged are majority black.

The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled Aug. 14 that a chancery judge had erred in blocking the merger of the schools.

JFK United is demanding the resignation of Superintendent Maurice Smith and school board chairman Jefferick Butler and asking that the district give the JFK building to the citizens of Mound Bayou. The group also asks that the town’s residents be given the money that was in the Mound Bayou School District account when the districts consolidated.

JFK United is also demanding that the Mound Bayou School District be reinstated.

Northside High principal LaDewayne Harris said the first day at the consolidated high school went smoothly.

“We had put procedures in place to ensure a smooth transition and they are working,” Harris said. “If I was going to give us a grade for the first day, I would give it an A.”

When asked about the number of students who have been absent for the first few days of school, Harris replied in an email to the newspaper: “Please respect our efforts to educate children here in the Mississippi Delta.”

The Bolivar Commercial was not immediately able to obtain enrollment or attendance numbers, and newspaper employees were asked to leave campus as they tried to verify whether buses were arriving empty. The newspaper learned that protests have been occurring at John F. Kennedy High School in Mound Bayou and not at Northside High in Shelby.

“We are planning on protesting for 10 days. That is two full school weeks,” Mound Bayou Mayor Eulah L. Peterson said Tuesday on behalf of JFK United.

Peterson said she is not worried that the two-week absence will make students miss instruction. “We are looking at ways to keep them from falling behind,” she said.

Former teachers and school counsellors are working with students, and some parents are considering homeschooling their children, the mayor said.