State President of NAACP Attends Local Town Hall Meeting
By Sid Riley
The school board and school administrators may think the racial slur incident which occurred several weeks ago at the Marianna Middle School has been resolved, but that is not the opinion of the local black community, as well as the local and state officials of the NAACP. Many in the African-American community, parents, and leaders are still very upset and are seeking further action against the teacher who made the racial remarks, Greg Howard. They want his teaching certificate to be suspended.
At a special "Town Hall" information gathering meeting on Wednesday evening, State NAACP leaders, Local NAACP leaders, and a concerned crowd of approximately fifty citizens met to discuss the issue and to formulate a plan of action. The discussion was led by a panel consisting of Madam Adora ObiNweze, State NAACP President and member of the National NAACP board, Mr. Charles Evans State NAACP Officer, Richard Patterson local NAACP Branch President, and Elmore Bryant Past-President of the local NAACP Branch.
After an opening prayer delivered by Deacon Collins and recognition of several local community leaders who were present, Richard Patterson opened the meeting by defining the purpose and format of the proceedings. He expressed his regret that this act had focused national attention on the racial situation in Jackson County, and the fact that this event has destroyed years of positive work and direction on improving community relationships in our area. He expressed his despair that they had not been able to accomplish more at the School Board meeting where outgoing Superintendent of Schools Danny Sims made the final decision to only temporarily suspend Mr. Howard, transfer him to Adult Education from the Middle School, prohibit him from coaching, and engage him in special sensitivity training. "Our timing was bad, since he is the outgoing Superintendent at this time", Patterson related.
As members of the audience began to speak, many of the statements, outrage, and emotions that were expressed at the School Board Meeting were reiterated. However, there were some new claims which surfaced. Among these were the concerns expressed by one parent over the fact that Mr. Howard had been coming back onto the Middle School campus during class hours, thus arousing fears of possible reprisal from him directed toward some to the students who have testified against him.
Another allegation was directed against Supt. Sims stating that the Superintendent’s family or the family of his wife is related distantly to the Howard family, and because of this relationship Mr. Simms should be disqualified from the issue due to a possible conflict of interest. The panel promised to investigate this problem.
The organization’s legal counsel, Mr. Crumbs spoke on the fact that the School Board had failed to follow the precedent set in a similar incident in South Florida, as presented to the board by Mr. Crumbs at the meeting several weeks ago. In the South Florida incident the racial slur was not premeditated, occurred in the hallway instead of in the classroom, and by those standards was less severe than the Howard incident, yet in that case the teacher had received a three year suspension of license. He stated that they are attempting to get the State DOE and even the Governor to take suspension action against Mr. Howard. "If we fail in that effort, we may have to resort to court action against the parties involved", he continued.
At one point madam Adora ObiNeze, the State NAACP President delivered a fiery address, stating the failures of the local school system to address the educational needs of the black children in Jackson County. She stated that their graduation rate is below 50%, that many are only being given an attendance certificate instead of a diploma, that for too many the educational road leads to prison and failure, that suspensions of black students and remedial actions for black children far outnumber similar actions against whites, and in general, the system is not serving the needs of the local African American citizens.
She stated that she and the State NAACP officials are "very concerned" about the racial situation that exists in Jackson County, and "they are going to support and in some instances lead the local community in an effort to correct these shortfalls. If they will not respond to our requests, we will engage in demonstrations and will focus the eyes of the nation on what is happening here".
The local leadership is scheduling a follow-up meeting in the near future to develop a formal plan of action in this matter. "If the state will not support us, then we will move onward to the Federal level", stated Patterson. "At the moment we are most disturbed about the fact that Mr. Howard is returning to the school campus and the emotional impact this is having on some of our students. We plan to immediately approach the school officials about this at the November 18 meeting".
The meeting adjourned, but it was obvious the book is not closed on the issue.
In a subsequent meeting with Larry Moore, Deputy Superintendent of Schools, we were informed that the schools administration is aware of the fact that Mr. Howard had on at least one occasion been on the Marianna Middle School campus during class hours, and that appropriate action had been taken to prohibit a reoccurrence. In response to the "conflict of interest" charge due to a family relationship between Mr. Sim’s wife and the family of Mr. Howard, Moore stated that he felt that if any relationship does exist, it is probably distant enough to render it meaningless.