Protesters send kids back to school

Posted: Wednesday, August 28, 2002

LITTLE ROCK -- Leaders of a school boycott told parents Saturday to send their children back to class, saying the protest got state and district officials to listen their complaints about board elections and school conditions.

Parents in the Lee County School District should send their children to school beginning Monday, the Rev. Agin Muhammad told a community meeting of about 200.

''It would serve us no benefit to continue to keep our children out of school,'' Muh-ammad said. ''This is a victory we have achieved.''

Attendance at schools in the 1,750-student district in Marianna had slowly built up from just 181 on the first day of school to 489 students on Friday.

Parents in the poor, predominantly black district -- where five out of seven board members are white -- say the election system favors white incumbents over black candidates.

However, board member Phylista Stanley, who is black, says the race of board members is not the root of the community discord; the board has had a black majority in years past.

Protest leaders also say they're concerned about poor conditions in the school buildings, and have invited state and district officials to visit the schools.

Stanley spoke at Saturday's meeting and showed pictures of restrooms in the schools, including some with broken or missing toilets.

Ray Simon, director of the state Department of Education, said Saturday that a department monitor has been on campus since school started because the district is on the state's academic distress list.

He said he and the agency were willing to help but he respects the authority of the local district to resolve what issues it can first.

''I think we'll certainly be available to offer assistance when we feel our presence is appropriate,'' Simon said.

Four residents sued the school board and various district officials last week, claiming an unfair school board elections process. A hearing is scheduled for Friday.

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