Meeting turns to protest

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 11, 2013

By David Vitrano

LUTCHER – Although a scheduled community meeting at Lutcher Elementary School Monday evening was cancelled, those who organized the meeting along with several community members showed up to protest a move they called unfair and dishonest.
At the small gathering held in a parking area adjacent to the school, local NAACP President Debra Bartley, who has railed against the district recently for what she calls neglectful treatment of the mostly African-American school, spoke to those gathered as some held signs of protest.
Bartley went through a list of questions she met with district administration to discuss beforehand. The questions included requests such as detailing the district’s desegregation plan, its future plans for both Lutcher Elementary School and Fifth Ward Elementary School and how equitable the district’s educational facilities are.
“Just be honest with us,” she said.
Bartley said most recent development was just one more symptom of an administration that likes to keep the community in the dark as much as possible.
St. James Parish Superintendent Alonzo Luce, however, said the administration did not cancel the meeting but objected to the format presented by Bartley and NAACP. Luce said that last week he met with Bartley and others for four hours to discuss the meeting and its format but felt blindsided when presented with the desired format.
“We said, ‘Whoa, we were going there for a public hearing,’” he said.
When Luce refused to meet their demands, he said NAACP Education Chair Charles Kirklon demanded School Board President Charles Nailor override Luce’s decision, but Nailor refused.
“They basically chose to cancel the meeting because they couldn’t control it,” said Luce. “If we were going to have a meeting, we were going to work together to have a process.”
Those on the other side of the fence, however, saw things a bit differently. Those gathered claimed the meeting was cancelled because the district wanted to have complete control of the proceedings.
Bartley also said the cancellation came from the district.
“He wants to silence our voice,” she said. “This is a meeting that they never wanted.”
Part of the separation seems to be a perception on the part of the School Board that the opinions are not that of the community’s but rather of a small group wishing to stir up trouble.
“If the community wants to have a meeting, we’ll be happy to have one,” said Luce.
“I told him I’m not an attention seeker,” said Bartley, “but if there’s a problem I will bring attention to it.”
Bartley’s involvement in the matter dates back to September 2012, when she sent district administration an email noting mold problems at the school.
She sent another message in October regarding the same matter and the extensive leaks in the roof of the school. The School Board has recently taken action regarding replacing the roof at Lutcher Elementary, but Bartley said a new roof will not fix years of neglect.
“The roof is not the only problem,” she said. “Don’t you want the best for your child? Give us the best.”
After Bartley outlined her position, others in the community spoke out on the matter.
Said Lorenzo Clayton, who graduated from the school in 1973, “When they came here, they tore down the stadium, but they didn’t put it back. They destroyed it from the beginning. They’re not going to put anything back in our community.”