Community reacts to Chambers County School District ruling

Published 9:30 am Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Since Judge W. Keith Watkins announced his decision in the Chambers County School District desegregation order, many in the community have made their opinions known.

On June 23, the judge issued an order, stating that the students of LaFayette High School were ordered to stay at the current school location throughout the building of the new consolidated high school. 

Though the judge’s final opinion with detailed instructions for progress reports is still forthcoming, members of the LaFayette community announced their dissatisfaction with the compromise the following day. 

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At Saturday’s unveiling of a historical marker at the former JP Powell Middle School, several LaFayette High School teachers expressed their disappointment.

LHS Science Teacher Ty Smith, who helped form the LaFayette Teachers Against Displacement group, said the city would no longer accept “breadcrumbs.” 

“We want to let everyone know that we’re condemning the decision as racist,” Smith said. “It aligns with a long history of racist schooling in America — the oppression of Black children — and we’re not going to settle.”

LHS counselors LaWendy Willis and Tammy Huguley also represented the L-TAD group and its response to the order. Smith called on the LaFayette community to continue supporting their cause.

“We’re not going to settle for that anymore,” Smith said. “Either we’re going to have equity, or there won’t be peace. We’re going to continue to fight and let the people of the city of LaFayette know we’re not done.”

LaFayette resident Ruby Carr urged LaFayette and Chambers County residents to continue to fight for the consolidated school to be built in a centralized location.

“I’m encouraging the citizens of the LaFayette and Chambers County that we all come together and make sure that every child of the county will have equal and fair education,” Carr said. “We’re looking forward to working with all the citizens of the county to make sure that all our kids receive equal education.”

In contrast, Valley’s mayor said he believes the Valley location will “make Chambers County grow.” 

“Locating the school here is going to save the school district probably $20.5 million dollars in infrastructure. It’s already here,” said Valley Mayor Leonard Riley. “But I don’t think the school should have been consolidated until the new school was built. So that was a good decision too. Both decisions to me were good.”

Riley said the Valley property offers more established infrastructure and would save the school district money. According to the mayor, the submitted Valley property also is close to a new water line. A 750,000-gallon water tower is also less than a quarter mile from the property in Valley as well.

“I understand the city of LaFayette is disappointed but they just don’t have the infrastructure, the war treatment plant,” Riley said. 

After the order was announced, the defense team representing the plaintiffs from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund said they are disappointed in the decision to allow the new school to be built in the Valley location.

“We are (sic) please the court recognized the disproportionate burden that the Chambers County Board of Education’s consolidation plan placed on Black students in LaFayette and at the historically Black LaFayette High School,” said Education Special Counsel GeDá Jones Herbert in an email to VTN. “The court is right to order the Board to keep LaFayette High School fully operational until a new consolidated high school is built. While we are disappointed that the court is not requiring the district to build the new consolidated high school in a central location, LDF will continue to fight vigorously for all Black students in the Chambers County School District.”

However, Riley said that the city of Valley will continue to support the school district. 

“We’re going to be 100% supportive, and we just don’t want any outsiders telling us what to do,” Riley said. “We’re ready to start building. I think the judge used the word ‘immediately,’ and if he used that word, they’ll have to be an injunction to stop the movement.”

The judge’s order states that the plans presented in Jan. for the consolidated school may begin immediately.