Protestors’ signs banned from school board meeting; assistant superintendent brings his own sign to protest

Published 9:57 pm Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Wednesday’s Chambers County School Board meeting got off to an interesting start when LaFayette-Teachers Against Displacement protesters were told they couldn’t have their signs inside the board room. 

According to CCSD Superintendent Casey Chambley, the LaFayette mayor, city attorney, police chief and CCSD Board President Jeffery Finch met on Tuesday to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on Tuesday stating that signage is a disruption and would not be permitted in the meeting room.

Unite Founder Dr. Travis Smith argued that it was their constitutional right. 

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“The board does not have a current sign policy,” Travis Smith said in response. “And are we saying the board is incapable of conducting a meeting by the presence of signs?” 

CCSD Board Attorney Bob Meadows said it was within their right for LaFayette police officers to remove them from the room.

The group has held ongoing protests against the school district leadership and the chosen location for the county’s consolidated high school. The signs they use say ‘Good trouble,’ ‘no equity, no peace’ and ‘racism.’ 

“So the fact that they are uncomfortable with those signs means that they are against good trouble, they are against civil rights, they are against equity and they are for racism,” Tytiana Smith said.

Assistant Superintendent David Owen responded to the protesters with a sign of his own reading, “Fact check the false narratives.” He said he was off the clock and acting independently as a citizen.

Owen said many of the claims made against the school board are rumors based on social media posts and that he came out to urge people to fact-check them. 

“But yet [people] misrepresent the facts to make it look like the board is negligent toward LaFayette High School,” Owen said. “Nobody’s trying to be negligent to LaFayette High School.”

He also said Unite CEO Dr. Travis Smith, who was a former board consultant whose contract was not renewed in December 2022, has a “hatchet to bury.” 

“Ask him how many minorities he helped the school district hire … He was paid a lot of money to deliver and didn’t deliver,” Owen said. “So we just went in a different direction, and he turned on the district.” 

In a statement to the VTN in a phone call after the meeting, Travis Smith said in April 2021 he was issued a contract for $10,000 focused on virtual recruitment events, leadership recruitment events and teacher recruitment trainings.

“Nowhere in the contract does it say we were responsible for hiring anybody,” Travis Smith said. “So if I did not deliver on the contract in April 2021 for $10,000, why would the district sign another contract for $25,000 For 2022?”

The CCSD board introduced Edwards and Associates CEO Dr. Lonnie Edwards as a diversity consultant to collaborate with the school district on the desegregation case. Edwards has many years of experience working with State Board of Education on desegregation cases.

Chambley said the school district will continue to move forward with the consolidation in compliance with the federal court order made this summer. 

“The issue that we’re dealing with here that’s so hard for everybody to understand is that it doesn’t really matter who the superintendent is right now,” Chambley said. “The federal court order is the federal court order.”

Valley High School teacher Tytiana Smith addressed the board on three main points. The group asked the board to meet with the LaFayette City Council to discuss the purchase of the former J.P. Powell Middle School building. 

She said one example was when she was transferred from LaFayette High School to work at Valley High over the summer. She said instructors were bullied into “making illegal grade distributions” and the LaFayette marching band travel funds were defunded. 

Owen said L-TAD’s previous criticisms about the school board using emergency certificates to hire teaching staff are misrepresented.

Owen said the claim about the LaFayette marching band was untrue based on a miscommunication between a student and staff member. 

Tytiana Smith said she has also seen unfair treatment at the schools in Valley but staff are afraid of “recent retaliation tactics.”

“We might not agree with everything, but we have a common enemy, and that’s Dr. Chambley and the Chambers County School District,” Tytiana Smith said.