Crowd leaves unsatisfied and with little information

Published 6:42 pm Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The crowds that gathered in the board room of the Picayune Municipal Separate School District for the school board meeting where the fate of a senior charged with having a gun in her car at school had to leave the meeting unsatisfied last night.

The first group that crowded the board room for the first public session of the board were grumbling and wanting to know how long the executive session would last when the board voted to enter the executive session to consider the matter along with five other student discipline matters.

The crowd that gathered for the open session after the approximately two-hour executive session appeared even more angry when the meeting was adjourned. After the meeting was adjourned, one member of the crowd appeared to threaten school board member Harvey Miller as he left the board room.

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The crowd began grumbling and muttering among themselves when they were told by an attorney for the school board that for confidentiality reasons the board would not reveal its decision in any of the six disciplinary matters that it decided last night, including the one involving the gun charge.

“Unfortunately, the public will never know all the facts,” said Jim Keith, a Jackson attorney who is retained by the Mississippi School Boards Association and advises members of the association on various legal matters.

Keith told the crowd that gathered in the board room for the second public session that despite Mississippi being a “no tolerance” state, the board is required to look at all the circumstances surrounding a case before making a disciplinary decision, “whether it be an expulsion or something else.”

He called “Zero Tolerance,” the name given the law passed by the Mississippi Legislature dealing with firearms at or in schools “a political term,” for a law that requires administrators and school boards to look at all the circumstances surrounding a discipline incident before arriving at a decision on how it is to be dealt with. School also boards must consider the recommendations of administrators and a discipline committee before making decisions in cases involving suspensions of more than 10 days and expulsions, he said.

“What a board can’t do is adopt a policy to hide behind,” Keith said.

He described such a policy as being one where the school board makes a policy so rigid that it can tell students and parents at a hearing that the board’s “hands are tied because of this policy.”

“Policies are good guides. Everyone is for zero tolerance until it involves someone near and dear to them, then they want leniency,” Keith told the crowd.

“These issues (guns at school) are very tough nationwide,” he said.

Referring to the opening remarks that President George Bush made earlier in the day at a meeting on school safety in Baltimore, Md., Keith said, “It all starts in the home. … We have to get parents back to enforcing discipline in the home.”

Throughout his remarks to the public, Keith praised the Picayune school board, saying it had one of the best systems in the state designed to protect children in the school system by having both a nurse and a resource officer at each school. A resource officer is a sworn Picayune police officer who carries a weapon to help deal with any issues that arise at a school that need police assistance. He said that as far as he knows, Picayune is the only school district with a nurse at each school.

At the end of the meeting, the grumbling became louder and one person in the audience asked if audience members were allowed to ask questions and another asked, “What have you done to make our schools safe.”

To the question concerning audience members asking questions, board chairman Reese Moody said that to address the board, a person had to be on the agenda. He invited the questioner to get on the agenda for the board’s next meeting in two weeks.

When the meeting adjourned, another member of the audience called out, “Ya’ll did a lousy job. Nothing is resolved yet.”