Parents, others pack school board meetingFighting-suspension pattern must cease, trustees told

Published 11:29 am Friday, March 30, 2012

Parents of Vicksburg High School students waited an hour an a half for it, but got their chance Thursday night to speak on the record to the Vicksburg Warren School District Board of Trustees.

At least 100 people packed into the school board’s meeting room at the district offices, filling every chair and lining two deep along back and side walls for the board’s regular monthly business meeting.

Three parents had requested space on the agenda to express concerns and voice support for VHS following recent fights there, a lockdown March 20 and multiple student arrests. The board and Dr. Elizabeth Swinford, superintendent, handled several agenda items and then recognized the parents.

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Tina Abney and Lynda Jackson said student safety is their primary concern, and discipline for students who disrupt school and individual classes needs to be strict.

“The consequences of a student’s actions must be immediate,” Abney said. “The constant revolving door of fighting-suspension, fighting-suspension must come to a halt. The students that disrupt the classroom need a greater consequence as well. How can any teacher be expected to teach a class when every few minutes they are stopping to send someone to the office and the students treat it like it’s a joke?”

Cheryl Kariuki, president of the VHS Parent-Teacher Organization, also spoke. Kariuki defended the school, its administrators, teachers and the many hard-working, academically serious students and urged all concerned to unite behind positive, constructive acts.

“We’re not going to help our children or our school by blatantly criticizing the administration and faculty at (VHS), and it certainly does not help matters when our school is portrayed as being so unsafe that the use of body bags is imminent. What does this say to our children (and) the vast majority of our students?”

Kariuki also pointedly invited parents to join the PTO and attend meetings.

“The PTO is a great opportunity for parents to stay abreast of what’s going on at the school,” Kariuki said. “When our children see that their parents are involved in the educational process, they will in turn respect our school system.”

Both addresses to the board were met with loud applause from the many in attendance.

Opening Thursday night’s meeting, Swinford summarized a meeting between school and city officials which many parents, county officers, law enforcement and others attended Wednesday.

“The events that took place at VHS …. (were) initiated with two girls,” she said. “All the students (involved) have been removed from the VHS campus, suspended for nine days, incarcerated and they have to be presented to the (district’s) Discipline Review Committee and also have to go through court.”

Swinford said she also met Tuesday with many students at VHS.

She sat with students through three different lunch periods and then also met with about 30 others, including academic scholars, those who had been in trouble, and “everything in-between.”

“We’re preparing them for college and for decision-making as well, and we need to include them in these discussions,” Swinford said, adding that she gained a lot of insight and would continue to talk with and listen to them.

Earlier Thursday Swinford addressed the Vicksburg Rotary Club, along with football coaches from the two high schools.

She said the March 20 fight did not turn out to be a serious issue but that the students involved were still strictly disciplined in order to send the message that fighting will not be tolerated.