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District’s Oakes cites changes at alternative school

[07/19/01] Vicksburg Warren School District officials have made several changes at the Center for Alternative Programs since the May grand jury criticized the facility, the July grand jury was told Wednesday.

A letter from Superintendent Donald Oakes given to July grand jurors said an internal audit was conducted after grand jurors who met in May alleged that rules against drugs, alcohol and tobacco use were being ignored by students and faculty at the school.

After interviewing school personnel in closed session, May grand jurors alleged rampant truancy and on-campus drug use by students.

The school, which was moved to the former Bovina Elementary School from Grove Street two years ago, was established in 1991 for students who are not functioning in a conventional school setting.

The letter, addressed to Warren County District Attorney Gil Martin, told of several personnel changes for the coming school year, including the replacement of principal Charles Sanders, who has refused to speak publicly about the allegations. The letter did not say if Sanders was terminated or if he resigned.

Oakes was out of town and could not be reached for comment.

Oakes had denied that the Alternative School had the kinds of problems cited by grand jurors. “I think these claims are based on hearsay. We are not going to claim that everything is perfect because that is not the case at any school,” he said in May.

The assistant principal at the school has been transferred to another position, which was not named in the letter, and three teachers have resigned or retired and nine have been assigned to new job sites to accommodate the relocation of various programs, the letter said.

Oakes’ letter also said “privacy laws prohibit the district from disclosing whether resignations, retirements or terminations of personnel resulted in whole or in part from disciplinary actions by the school district administration.”

The letter said procedures for reporting any threat will be implemented and greater attention will be given to attendance.

In the letter, Oakes, also said the Mississippi Department of Education visited the school in May and suggested several changes that are being considered.

One grand juror said he is still concerned that enough was not being done.

“We were told by a teacher that they felt intimidated about speaking out about what’s going on,” he said.

Elsewhere in their report, jurors, who were in session Monday through Wednesday, recommended that grand jurors in October follow up on the Alternative School.

The grand jury also:

Recommended that the Vicksburg Police Department establish and implement a uniform filing system for case files.

Recommended that the Warren County Sheriff’s Department be given additional guards for the county jail.

Suggested better interaction among the divisions of the Vicksburg Police Department.

The grand jury, which meets four times a year, considered evidence in 34 cases and returned indictments in 31. The panels, selected at random from voter rolls three times each year, meet in closed sessions, interview public officials and inspect public buildings and programs.

Indictments stemming from the grand jury will be made public Thursday and Friday after defendants are arraigned.