/Mound Bayou high school to remain open; judge wants state to weigh in on closing plan

Mound Bayou high school to remain open; judge wants state to weigh in on closing plan

Nonprofit Mississippi News A judge has granted permission for Mound Bayou High School to remain open. In a case in which residents of historic towns are challenging the decision of the school district to close their high school’s doors, a judge ruled that neither side was in compliance with the rules or attempting to appeal the closing. It’s actually what Chancery Judge W.M. Sanders’ order has made the school district silent, and the Mississippi Board of Education is being asked where they fit into the process. Sanders directed John F. Kennedy Memorial School to remain open until the Mississippi Board of Education reviews the reconfiguration plan of closing the high school as proposed by North Bolivar Consolidated Schools District. But the Mississippi Department of Education insists that reconfiguring the district is an issue local and not state-wide. “I have confirmed that closing or consolidating schools within school districts is a local decision. Jean Cook, MDE Communications Specialist, wrote an email to Mississippi Today confirming that the State Board of Education is involved in school district boundaries changes due to district consolidation. Multiple calls and voicemails to Maurice Smith, North Bolivar Consolidated superintendent, were not returned. After three days of testimony, oral arguments and hearings about whether Mound Bayou’s high school could be closed legally, Sanders issued his order. The North Bolivar Consolidated District school Board voted 3-2 in January to approve a plan which would see the closing of Mound Bayou’s high school and the relocation of all Shelby high school students. The district would reduce its number of schools to just three, with the closing of a middle school in Shelby. Smith stated that the reason the district had to cut down on the number of schools was due to declining enrollment, decreased funds, and the loss of certified teachers. Mound Bayou residents claimed that there was not enough public discussion before the decision was made and that closing high school would end a significant piece of African-American history. In March, they filed an injunction asking Sanders to block Smith and the board from further actions regarding the closing of the school, temporarily or permanently. They also requested that Smith be fired. Sanders stated in her order, “The court believes neither the petitioners nor the respondents have fully complied statutory requirements for opening, reconfiguring, appealing or reconfiguring said closings and/or/reconfigurations of the North Bolivar Schools District.” The order also states that Smith should be removed from his position. Mississippi law gives local school boards the power to close schools within their districts, provided it benefits all “educable” children in that district. A separate law, which Sanders used to guide her ruling, states, “no order of the school board reorganizing, abolishing or altering any school district … shall be final unless and until said proposed reorganization, alteration or abolition shall be submitted to and approved by the State Board of Education.” MDE would not provide further clarity on what its role would be in North Bolivar Consolidated School District’s reconfiguration given this court order, but reiterated that “decisions about closing or consolidating schools within a school district is a local district decision,” and that, “The State Board of Education gets involved when school district boundaries change due to a district consolidation.”