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Bryant declares emergency in two school districts

CLAIBORNE COUNTY and LEFLORE COUNTY — Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency yesterday in the Claiborne County and Leflore County school districts, clearing the way for the state Department of Education to take them over.

The State Board of Education last Friday sought the declaration so it could remove superintendents and school boards in both districts and appoint a conservator to run them.

“The Commission on School Accreditation and the State Board of Education have found that an extreme emergency exists in each district, jeopardizing the safety, security and educational interests of students,” Bryant said in a statement.

All of Leflore County’s schools currently have failing grades. Questions of test cheating surfaced at one LeFlore County school and in some Claiborne schools. And, in Claiborne County, the state said school board members try to micromanage elected Superintendent Elijah Brown.

The board voted to hire Jayne Sargent as conservator in Claiborne County. Sargent is a former Jackson city schools superintendent who led the state’s takeover effort in Oktibbeha County until late 2012.

The board voted to hire Robert Strebeck as conservator in Leflore County. Strebeck is currently the state’s conservator in the Aberdeen system. He would be replaced in Aberdeen by John Curlee III.

State Board of Education Chairman Wayne Gann of Corinth said officials felt it was appropriate to take over Claiborne and Leflore because they didn’t present clear plans to remedy their problems.

The state currently controls seven districts: Aberdeen, Sunflower-Drew, Indianola, Oktibbeha County, North Panola, Hazlehurst and Tate County. The state is moving to return the latter three to local control.

Under current law, any district taken over by the state also would lose its accreditation. Oktibbeha County is the only district currently without accreditation. The other six districts were taken over before the law was changed.

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