/Forest Hill band probation upheld, JPS officials decry lack of transparency

Forest Hill band probation upheld, JPS officials decry lack of transparency

Officials from Mississippi News Jackson are asking for greater transparency in the process that led to the Mississippi High School Activities Association confirming its decision to sanction the Forest Hill High School marching bands for their contentious halftime performance earlier in the month. After a Brookhaven half-time performance that saw students acting out a hostage situation and pointing fake guns at law enforcement officers, the MHSAA placed the band on restrictive probation. Two Brookhaven police officers were killed and two others were injured in the line-of-duty shootings a week prior to that performance. The MHSAA executive committee was made up of 15 school administrators. (14 were present) On Tuesday, they met privately to hear an appeal from Forest Hill officials. Ed Sivak, a Jackson Public School Board member, stated that he and other members were not allowed to attend the meeting with its executive committee. Sivak spoke out about the MHSAA decision-making. “In our experience good governance requires accountability, transparency, and throughout the process. Those qualities have been sorely lacking.” State senators. While the committee deliberated David Blount (D-Jackson), and Sollie Norwood (D-Jackson), waited outside, both stated that they desired a more open process. My heart goes out for the officers. Norwood stated that while I support law enforcement, I also support that. However, we don’t want anyone to be mistreated in this process. “Let’s have an open, fair process, and whatever penalties are imposed, we will at most be clear about what occurred.” The Mississippi High School Activities Association (MSA) is a non-profit entity. They do not have to hold public meetings. Mississippi Today also requested a list of all sanctions imposed against school districts over the past five years. The association did not respond to that request. Blount stated, “I would suggest to them that it would increase confidence and your deliberations and those decisions if they were made in public.” “You can do it if your organization is private, if that’s what you want.” Don Hinton, president of MHSAA, met media and other waiting outside the board room. He stated that the executive committee had decided to keep the band on restrictive probation for the remainder 2018-19 school year. He explained that the marching band could still perform on the stands with JPS administrative approval but can’t participate in performances on the fields or any of the association’s state competitions and activities. Hinton called the show an inappropriate performance at half-time, but clarified that the band was not suspended. This status would prohibit students from participating in all band activities. Hinton stated, “I hope that students will be able to speak up if there is something wrong.” “Obviously that didn’t happen,” Jeanne Hairston, president of JPS Board, stated that the decision has been hard on the school community. She said, “It’s so depressing for us as a community.” “We are devastated that the Forest Hill band won’t be able march under these sanctions.” Last week, Jackson Public Schools board members were overwhelmed by supporters who rushed to support Demetri Jones, band director. Superintendent Errick Greene stated at the meeting that Jones was the subject of a district personnel action, but officials have not yet clarified the details. After Brookhaven leaders passed the resolution asking for the MHSAA’s lifting of the probation, school officials and parents hoped for a positive decision. According to their website, the MHSAA was originally established in 1922 as “State Association”. After several reorganizations, the Mississippi High School Athletics Association, Inc., was officially named and incorporated into the state constitution in 1950s. Later, the organization merged with another similar group in 1971 but kept the same name. The association manages interscholastic activities, including band, speech, debate and choral events. Hinton stated that safety, security, and harmony in all schools is our number one priority. In its handbook, the MHSAA states that it is a private non-profit “self-supporting organization” that doesn’t rely on any taxpayer dollars from any state agency or federal government. The most recent tax forms reveal that the association earned $3,688,708 in 2015 revenue. About 63 percent of revenue comes from “athletic gates revenues”, band contests, seminars, and other services. The wages of MHSAA staff make up a large portion of the association’s expenses. In 2015, they spent more than $1.2million. According to tax records, Hinton was the highest-paid executive, earning $180,416 in 2015. The committee met in secret, but state legislators, members of school boards, and supporters waited inside the lobby to hear a decision. Blount stated that he believes the band should be allowed back to work. Blount stated that “the halftime performance was wrong”, and it has been condemned by the mayor and our superintendent. “People will be held responsible, but our high-school students need to have the ability to participate in that activity with proper adult supervisions,” Norwood stated. He wanted to make sure that the decision was made with students in mind. “… I don’t want students to be misplaced or displaced because of decisions made for them beyond their level,” stated Norwood, who was once on the JPS school board. Hinton stated that Forest Hill has decided to prevent students from attending the Natchez High School away match Friday because of safety concerns. At 6 p.m. on Tuesday, the Jackson City Council will meet. There are two resolutions that ask for Jones to be reinstated as band director and for the suspension against the band to be lifted.