Concerned citizens organize bus trip for public hearing on school closings

Published 11:36 am Wednesday, June 29, 2022

A group of concerned citizens in Chambers County has organized a bus trip to attend a hearing on the Chambers County School District’s consolidation plan, which will involve creating a new high school and merging some schools together.

The bus ride will take place on Thursday, June 30, starting at 7 a.m. The event organizers are hoping to fill three buses, which are being provided by local transportation business owner Tifton Dobbs. The buses will depart from the parking lot of New Mt. Sellars Baptist Church at 660 Avenue A SE in LaFayette and take riders to G.W. Andrews Federal Building and United States Courthouse, located at 701 Avenue A in Opelika.

People are welcome to travel in their cars, but concerned citizen Ruby Carr said parking in downtown Opelika is limited. People do not have to call ahead of time to go on the trip, but they can contact Carr with any questions by calling (334) 610-6779.

The hearing starts at 8 a.m. CST and will be held in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama in regards to CCSD’s consolidation plan. 

CCSD plans to turn LaFayette High School into a pre-K through eighth grade STEAM Academy. At the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year, Five Points Elementary and J. P. Powell Middle School will relocate to the Eastside Elementary School campus into a STEAM magnet program. Additionally, LaFayette Lanier Elementary will close and will merge into Fairfax Elementary.

CCSD announced the plan in May.

Carr said she and other concerned citizens are trying to save J. P. Powell Middle School, Five Points School and ​​LaFayette Lanier Elementary School from being closed down and preserve LaFayette High School as it is.

Carr said a part of the reason why they want to preserve the schools is because they’re historical.

Highway 50 is a particularly dangerous road in Chambers County, she also argued. She said she didn’t want kids traveling on it daily. Additionally, she brought up the issues of time zone differences and distances between schools.

“We’re living in the central time zone,” she said. “That is the Eastern time zone over there. So, we’ve got parents here that are living as far as the Randolph County line, the Tallapoosa line and even beyond the Lee County line, that those kids, now the parents are saying, ‘How long are our kids going to be on buses travelling to the valley?’”

Carr also expressed the concern that there wouldn’t be enough room for new students in the STEAM Academy being established in the LaFayette High School building.

“In reference to the STEAM Academy — I’ve been looking at the capacity according to the data that was given to us,” she said. “Those three schools, Five Points, Eastside and J. P. Powell, according to the information that we were given, it’s 491 kids. So the plans are, by the next school term, 2023-2024, is to merge those kids into LaFayette High School. Well, the capacity of LaFayette High School is 510. And I was told by the transportation director we’re going to be bringing kids in from all over the county.”

Carr also argued that $200,000 was spent to repair LaFayette Lanier only four years ago, so it would be a waste of money to close it down.

Carr argued that the consolidation plan would impact voting rights in Five Points and LaFayette.

“I’m looking at the situation where one day the plans will be that we don’t have to elect the superintendent,” she said. “We don’t have to elect the board members because if you take all of our kids down to the valley, I can’t vote for the board member in the valley if all of our kids are there.”

On Feb. 7, 2022, the CCSD held two community meetings — one in Valley and one in LaFayette — to discuss CCSD’s consolidation plans. Carr said it was the first and only community meeting the school system had held in the county since Superintendent Casey Chambley took office.

“And when we got to that meeting, I could tell that it was a contain, control situation,” she said. “The documentation that we received, it was after the facilitators spoke. And then we had different members of the task force coming to the tables to sit down and talk with us to try to persuade us to go along with what was on the documentation.”

Carr said the meeting was the first-time parents were made aware that J. P. Powell Middle School, Five Points School and ​​LaFayette Lanier Elementary School would be closed.

“They had already made the decision even before the judge, before the United States district judge could make the decision,” she said. “It was already made because it was on the paper.”

Carr said it was a problem that parents hadn’t received the documentation prior to the meeting.

“And they wanted the parents to go in there and do a survey,” she said. “They say that they’re transparent. But if you go on the Chambers County Board of Education website, and you pull up that improvement plan, they gave us three 11 by 17 sheets of paper. And on that website, it’s 16 pages long.”

Carr said there are over 32,000 citizens in Chambers County, but only 584 people took surveys to give their opinions on the consolidation plan. She said this lack of representation is what the bus ride is about.

Carr doesn’t believe that CCSD’s consolidation plan is the best way to desegregate the school system. Instead, she favors rezoning.

“And over the years, every time a superintendent said something about consolidating LaFayette with Valley, I truly believe from what I’ve been told, parents begin to withdraw their kids from the system just to keep from going to school with our kids,” she said.

A notice on the public hearing says that citizens who wish to submit written comments to the hearing must do so before 3 p.m. on Wednesday, June 29. They can be emailed to thomaskc@chambersk12.org. Written comments can be submitted in any form, but a template is available at the Chambers County Board of Education website at https://www.chambersk12.org.

Anyone interested in speaking at the hearing must contact GeDa’ Jones Herbert at (202) 682-1300 or Stanley F. Gray at (334) 727-4830 by 3 p.m. on Wednesday.