Proposal to 're-purpose' Gorenflo Elem. sparks claims of racism

Biloxi School Superintendent Dr. Paul Tisdale
Biloxi School Superintendent Dr. Paul Tisdale

By Trang Pham-Bui - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - "We are here to fight for our kids and for the teachers, as well as the principal," said Shelia McIntyre.

McIntyre has two children and two grandchildren at Gorenflo Elementary. She and a few other parents showed up at a Biloxi School Board workshop Thursday to learn more about the fate of their neighborhood school.

"I feel when we came back after the storm and they opened, as a new beginning," said McIntyre. "I feel it was a new start for our kids and we refuse to let Tisdale close our school down, and we will fight to the end."

Biloxi School Superintendent Dr. Paul Tisdale recommends closing Gorenflo as an elementary school, and using the five-year old building for other educational purposes, like an alternative school. He says enrollment at Gorenflo has stayed the same since Katrina. However, the enrollment at two nearby schools, Nichols and Lopez, has gone up.  Enrollment at all the elementary schools will drop even more next year, when sixth graders move into another campus.

There are other concerns as well, like few housing developments in the area and recent state budget cuts.  Some board members questioned why older schools in the district weren't considered.

"I would prefer to see maybe Lopez or Beauvoir Elementary or one of those schools closed. Not closed, but repurposed. Lopez is a small school," said Biloxi School Board member Loyce Seawright.

"I would prefer, and my suspicions are you would prefer, to have as little bussing as possible in order that kids can attend schools that are closest to their homes or their neighborhoods," said Tisdale.

"We bus kids now from east Biloxi to the high school over North Bay," said James Crowell.

Crowell is President of the Biloxi branch of the NAACP. He says he's opposed to closing a $13 million state-of-the-art school in a minority neighborhood.

"I really think the issue is more racially motivated than it is the fact that the school is not in a good location," said Crowell.

The school board asked the superintendent to consider other options, like closing either Lopez or Beauvoir as elementary schools. Another idea is to leave Gorenflo open and move the alternative school into the east wing of the campus.

"Once that decision is made, I'm pretty sure the people in our community are going to file complaints and maybe even file a lawsuit," said Crowell. "That may be our next step.  We don't know yet."

Dr. Tisdale had this to say about Mr. Crowell's comments about racism.

"His comment doesn't surprise me and I view such a comment as designed to cloud the issue, that enrollment in east Biloxi has dropped significantly since Katrina," Tisdale said.

Dr. Tisdale is studying the other options and will present his findings to the school board sometime next month.