BILOXI, MS (WLOX) – It started as a celebration to honor Nichols Elementary School for winning the National Blue Ribbon Award. That is quite an achievement, because Nichols was nominated by the state Department of Education and it had to show strong test scores and academic growth.
"Let's stand because this is quite an accomplishment," Principal Melissa Nance announced.
But the cheers were interspersed with chants Friday morning, as Biloxi Superintendent Dr. Paul Tisdale addressed the crowd.
"Save Nichols! Save Nichols! Save Nichols!" shouted a group of people in the gym. Some of the children even chanted with the adults.
More than a dozen members of the Save our Schools Coalition held up signs and at times interrupted the speeches.
"This is a great day and it should be about these children and these teachers, so please," Biloxi School Board President Kenny Holloway told the crowd.
The angry words continued after the ceremony between Holloway and Biloxi Councilman Bill Stallworth.
"Who got the Blue Ribbon, the building or the teachers and students?" Holloway asked Stallworth.
"Nichols got the Blue Ribbon. Then, y'all decide to close it," Stallworth responded.
Nichols supporters said the school's latest achievement raises even more questions about why Nichols had to close.
"Why celebrate the fantastic accomplishment of a school that you decided wasn't worthy enough to stay open? How hypocritical is that?" Stallworth asked.
"I am saddened and disheartened and, quite frankly, irritated that they would use this forum when we're recognizing children and the teaching staff," said Tisdale. "To voice their concerns and disrupt really what should have been a special moment for kids, I'm just very discouraged by that."
Tisdale stated that the decision to close Nichols was based mainly on economics, not academics. However, Nichols supporters have accused the district of racial discrimination and they questioned whether the district really cares about the children.
"And why they worked extremely hard to accomplish this and the school board slapped them in the face, closed their school, dismissed their faculty by telling them you simply aren't good enough. Now how ironic is that?" asked Stallworth.
"I am saddened and, to some degree, embarrassed as an adult citizen of Biloxi that we have kids and teachers being honored here today, and it's disrupted and disturbed by bigger kids in the community," said Tisdale.
The ceremony was held at Gorenflo Elementary, because that's where Nichols students now attend school. Former Nichols Principal Melissa Nance is now the principal at Gorenflo. She will head to Washington D.C. in November to receive the Blue Ribbon Award and meet the president.