Pastor calls Biloxi School Board "a disgrace"

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - By Jeff Lawson – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The controversy over the closing of Biloxi's Nichols Elementary School flared up again at the school board's meeting Tuesday night.

The Kellogg Foundation, a national organization, wants to give the school system more than $1 million over the next three years. The foundation thinks that money can be used to get Nichols open again, as soon as possible.

What to do about the proposal from the foundation was on the board's agenda Tuesday.

Board members have said the school, along with two others, were closed for budgetary reasons. But many in the audience weren't buying it. Several members of the Save Our Schools Coalition made it clear they remain very angry and frustrated.

"It is idiotic," the Reverend James Black told the audience. "You would think you would want children to go to the best schools, and have the best faculty. But because of racism, you would rather see it closed down, and it is a disgrace."

But School Board Vice President Allison Buchanan told those in the audience this was not about bigotry or race.

"There is not a racist bone in my body, nor is there in this board," she said. "It hurts to the core that this has been turned into a discussion about race."

Buchanan did concede the board should have been more aware of the emotional connection the community has with Nichols and all it represents.

"If nothing else, we should have at least acknowledged that, and had a plan to preserve that legacy."

The criticism of the board and its closing of Nichols was unrelenting. Biloxi Councilman Bill Stallworth said the board refuses to have a dialogue with those who want Nichols open again.

"Talk to us, find a way. Let's open this school, take this money. Let's make a difference and do it the right way," Stallworth told the board.

At times, some in the audience voiced their frustration over the 30 minute time limit they were given to present their arguments about why Nichols should be open again.

Board President Kenny Holloway sounded frustrated, and asked those who were interrupting the meeting to please refrain from their comments. At one point, one man in the audience stormed out.

Near the end of the discussion, Biloxi Schools Superintendent Dr. Paul Tisdale took those who interrupted the meeting to task.

In a very calm voice, Tisdale said, "Those who work in other professions, I think, would struggle to keep your mouth closed, if somebody interrupted what you do. I commend the board on their restraint."

In the end, it was clear the controversy over the decision to close Nichols is far from over. The Reverend James Black ended his comments by telling the board members they have made a mockery of this and called them a disgrace.

As for the proposal from the Kellogg Foundation, the board will take it up at their next meeting in early October.

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