LaFayette protests at the BOE meeting

Published 8:00 am Thursday, September 28, 2023

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The chanting of “No equity, no peace” was once again the background anthem to the Chambers County School District’s board meeting on Wednesday night as a crowd stood outside the doors to protest the district’s leadership.

“If you’re not going to be just and equitable, we are not going to be silent any longer,” said LaFayette High School Counselor LaWendy Willis to the board.

LaFayette Teachers Against Displacement held a rally to protest against the board’s decision to build the new consolidated high school in Valley just days after district court judge Keith Watkins released his full ruling, OK’ing the deicion.

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In June, Watkins’ order was released, ordering LaFayette High School to stay open while the school district moves forward with building at the Valley site. His written opinion released this week reaffirmed that decision. 

“It’s clearly stated in the ruling how the judge felt and ruled. I felt like the ruling was fair, I felt like the ruling was applicable,” said CCSD Superintendent Dr. Casey Chambley. “So we are ready to move forward. We’re hoping and praying that we can find common ground and find a way to move forward for our kids because that’s ultimately who all of this is about.” 

The group has held several protests since January. This was the second rally at the board central office, the first of which was in August.

Unite Founder Dr. Travis Smith said that they will continue to attend board meetings until they see change. He also said Chambley has contradicted himself about the reasons for not using school sites along Highway 50.

“The mission hasn’t changed. We’re going to continue to bring awareness to some of the major issues,” Smith said.

During the board meeting, Willis addressed the board with concerns about the qualifications of teachers hired this year, questioning the ethics in the hiring process.

“Who is hiring the educators for the schools? Is it the principal or is it the superintendent?” Willis asked the board. “Is our hiring process ethical? We are extremely concerned about the numerous educators who are not certified.”

Willis said two LHS faculty members have recently resigned, one of whom she said was not qualified to teach one class in the state of Alabama. Willis claimed there was another candidate for the position who was better qualified but overlooked.

She also said LHS 11th and 12th grade has had four new teachers in two positions in the last month. Willis also said there has been no counselor at the J. P. Powell-Eastside campus except her despite the board stating there would be one. 

“With the instability of teachers, the burden is continuing to be placed on the students and the parents,” Willis said to the board.

Chambley said he took “copious notes” and will confer with the board to determine if a response is necessary and what that response will be but that he is confident in the judge’s decision. 

“We take all of their concerns seriously. All of the concerns have been taken seriously from the beginning about this,” Chambley said. “We know how serious of an issue this is and how sensitive of an issue it is.”

LaFayette citizen Charlene Story said she joined the protest for the sake of her children, who attend J.P. Powell Middle and LaFayette High.

“It takes time for change to happen. So I want to be around to see that change,” Story said. “I want to be a part of that change, and I hope that changes in a positive direction for our kids.”

Before the rally, Smith said LaFayette police officers told them that the protesters weren’t allowed to carry posters into the board room, sit on the floor in the board room and that they would have to stand at the top of the hill at the road. 

However, he said it is their right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression through protest.

“We know our rights as citizens,” Smith said. “We have the right to protest. People won’t dictate how we protest and where we protest.”

Chambers County School teacher Tytianna Smith said they were also told they couldn’t play music but that it is protected under freedom of speech. 

Chambley said that the school board welcomes the community to sit in on any board meeting. 

“I respect their passion for their community and their school,” Chambley said. “I appreciate their willingness to be here and to participate. That’s what our democracy and democratic process is about. It’s about voicing your opinions.” 

He said he did not want to restrict their freedom of speech, but they cannot disrupt the meeting with chanting.