LaFayette residents continue to speak out on consolidation

Published 10:15 am Wednesday, December 7, 2022

On Monday night, concerned citizens of LaFayette gathered with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to discuss their opposition to the Chambers County School District site selection for the consolidated high school. Citizens cited cyber abuse, unfair burdens in travel and discrimination in the decision-making process as top concerns.

The NAACP Legal Defense team reminded LaFayette citizens of the public hearing on Dec. 14, in which the judge presiding over the case has requested to hear from the community.

“We want to keep hearing from you, but who really needs to hear from you is the judge,” said US Attorney GeDa’ Jones-Herbert.

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The defense team encouraged the whole community, especially students and parents who will be affected by the decision to submit their comments via mail or in person. In addition to Jones-Herbert, the legal team present to provide guidance last night included LDF Attorneys Amia Trigg, Allison Scharfstein and Amber Koonce and Attorney Stanley Gray acting as co-counsel.

Among those who spoke were parents, teachers and coaches at LaFayette High School. Many referenced cyberbullying and intimidation that their students have experienced. One instance was the circulation of a photo on social media of a Valley High School student urinating on a LaFayette High emblem.

“The cruelty to kids has already begun,” said LaFayette Coach Anthony Calvin.

Faculty members also voiced concerns about the unfair commute that students from LaFayette and Five Points would have to make compared to the Valley students. LaFayette Teacher Jonathan Adams said that students at LaFayette and Five Points may have to ride up to an hour and a half to the new school every day.

“How is that going to help test scores?” Adams said.

Many citizens said that they wanted more transparency about why the board of education has not presented the public with a financial plan for the funding of the new school.

Sam Floyd of Valley said that he would look forward to unifying the cities.

“You guys have in this community a rich history,” Floyd said. “Me personally, I am looking forward to LaFayette and Valley joining together.”

Floyd and other attendees said they wanted to know how the decision on the site selection was made.

According to the defense team, LaFayette Mayor Kenneth Vines submitted almost twice as many location options for the site but was never contacted. As of Monday’s meeting, the defense team said they had not been given any explanation for how the site was selected.

In a press release from Oct. 27, the CCSD stated that they consulted a site comparison analysis completed by HOAR Property Management in order to make its decision.

The analysis included transportation costs; available sewage, electrical power, natural gas and adequate water services; potential road improvement projections; completed geotechnical and wetland reports; environmental site and topographical surveys and property zoning requirements for each site.

The analysis also compared the mileage burden for minority and majority students. The report showed that Black students in the district would travel 4,921 miles to the LaFayette location daily and 4,280.9 miles to the Valley one. Whereas, White students would travel 5,311.8 miles daily to LaFayette and 2,135.1 miles to Valley.

Another factor in the decision to select the Valley site was that 67% of CCSD students live within the Valley school zone. Eastside Elementary, J.P. Powell Middle School and LaFayette High School account for 651 of the 3,139 students.

Many citizens at Monday’s meeting also said that the promised improvements for Eastside Elementary that have not taken place were further evidence of inconsistencies with the CCSD.

The LDF team stated that the concerns that the public presented at the meeting were vital and needed to be presented to the judge on Dec. 14.

“This is something that we think is really important for the judge to hear from you all, who have lived this experience about the consolidated high school issue for decades. He’s sensitive to the community’s actual experience,” Trigg said.

The deadline for submitting a comment sheet is Dec. 12 at 10 a.m. central time. The forms can be filled out and sent to the secretary of the board of education or emailed to thomaskc@chambersk12.org.

Citizens can also send their forms to the team’s email address at chambers@naacpldf.org to ensure it is submitted. Those who wish to speak at the public hearing on Dec. 14 may contact. Gray at 334-727-4830.

“It’s more impactful if the folks who have experienced that pattern of the district not following through lay that out for the judge,” Koonce said.

The defense team said that no decision will be made by the judge during next week’s public hearing. The next court date will be in mid-January on a day to be determined. The defense team added that the final decision by the judge will likely come near the end of January.