St. James’ parents call for boycott

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 14, 1999

CHRISTINE HARVEY / L’Observateur / August 14, 1999

LUTCHER – Two days after a second vote to reinstate St. James HighSchool’s principal failed, picketers continued to march on the parish school board office.

Board members split down the middle on Tuesday’s vote, with Willis Octave, Charles Nailor and George Nassar voting to reinstate Mitchell, and Kathleen “Kitty” Becnel, Carol Lambert and Kenneth Foret voting to move him. Member Lloyd LeBlanc was absent. Parents and students began picketing earlier this week at the high school to protest School Superintendent P. Edward Cancienne’s decision toreplace principal Ridgely Mitchell with Jude Reulet, the school system’s instructional supervisor for grades 9-12.

Their protestations culminated Tuesday with about 60 supporters marching high across the Mississippi River, nearly three miles from Vacherie to the school board office in Lutcher, to the board’s regularly scheduled meeting.

“We came here in peace, love and harmony. We came here so our voicescould be heard,” said Wanda Pierre, one of the group’s parent organizers.

“Our children are the future, and we’re looking out for the future of our children.”The marchers and other protesters, numbering in the hundreds and waving signs such as “Good-bye Kitty!!” and “Stand with us-keep the children home,” filled the school board meeting room. The crowd spilled into theoffice’s hallway, front office and parking lot.

Not having gotten the results they hoped for, Pierre said the group would organize a recall election for school board Districts 6 and 7.

Becnel represents District 6 and was the only west bank board member to reject Mitchell as St. James High’s principal on all three occasions thesubject came to a vote.

District 7 is represented by Nailor, a late supporter of Mitchell who originally voted with the majority to move him to the parish’s Learning Academy, a school program that combines academics with behavior counseling for at-risk students. He brought the matter back to the boardfor a second vote after having a change of heart.

“He can’t be trusted,” Pierre said.

One-third of the registered voters in each district, or approximately 700 people per district, must sign a petition for a recall election to be held, said Claudia Stewart, who called herself a “concerned citizen.”She said she would have the necessary signatures within a week.

Pierre also told the board the group’s children would not attend school until Mitchell is back at St. James. The group is also calling on the football team for help, asking them to boycott practices until the matter is solved to their satisfaction.

“If they do not reinstate Mr. Mitchell, the principal, we will shut thesystem down,” she said.

Cancienne warned parents of the ramifications of not sending their children to school, which starts Aug. 18.”[Revised statute] 17:221 prohibits anyone from causing the absence of a child from school,” he said.

He also said they would fall behind quickly if kept home from school due to the system’s new block-scheduling format, in which students attend classes in 90-minute blocks for one semester, rather than spreading them over two semesters for less time per day.

Children may miss only 11 days of a class before receiving an “F” for the course, according to Cancienne.

And parents who call the office saying their children will not be in school due to illness will have to provide a doctor’s note verifying the illness upon return, he said.

Though the picketers continue to march outside the school board door, Cancienne said once school starts he would not allow such actions to take place at St. James High.”There will be no picketers on campus,” he said. “I’ll do whatever it takes.”Cancienne said he still believes he made the right decision in replacing Mitchell with Reulet and his supporters are telling him not to back down in the face of such vocal opposition.

“We hope that out parents will understand that our decisions have been made in the best interest of the children,” he said.

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