Judge blocks takeover of school system; second district asks for stay

LEFLORE COUNTY and CLAIBORNE COUNTY — A Hinds County judge has blocked the state takeover of the Leflore County school district, while the Claiborne County school district is asking another judge to reverse a takeover.

Judge Winston Kidd signed a temporary order blocking the Leflore takeover Monday, the same day Gov. Phil Bryant declared emergencies there and in Claiborne County, allowing the Mississippi Department of Education to step in. Claiborne County has asked Hinds County Circuit Judge Tomie Green to block its takeover, but Green had not acted as of Tuesday.

Both districts argue they are owed formal legal appeals where they could put on evidence and question witnesses before the state may act. State Rep. Willie Perkins, D-Greenwood, who represents the Leflore County district as a lawyer, made that argument last week before the Accrediting Commission and the state Board of Education. Everett Sanders, the Natchez lawyer who represents the Claiborne County district, made the same argument.

The stakes are high for the current officeholders in each district. Elected superintendents are usually permanently changed to appointed posts, while school board members at the time of a takeover are barred from ever serving again after a district is returned to local control.

The Mississippi Department of Education says that while formal appeals are allowed when accreditation is downgraded or revoked, no formal appeals are required in declared emergencies leading to takeovers.

Bryant spokesman Mick Bullock said the governor’s office is monitoring the legal maneuvers. A hearing in the Leflore County case is set for 10 a.m. Monday in Jackson.

Typically, at the beginning of a takeover, a conservator would arrive to take charge and hold a meeting with parents to explain what’s going on. But Guilfoyle said that’s on hold in both districts.

“At this time we’re still assessing the situation,” she wrote in an email.

The board hired former Oktibbeha County conservator and former Jackson city schools superintendent Jayne Sargent as conservator in Claiborne County. It sent Aberdeen conservator Robert Strebeck to Leflore County, replacing him with John Curlee III in Aberdeen.

State officials agreed last week not to take over the Yazoo City district, instead giving it six months to show improvement.

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 accreditation, meaning districts can play only half their regular-season high school athletic games and can’t participate in playoffs. It does not affect a high school student’s chance of being admitted into college.

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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