Over a half dozen Concerned Black Men and Women of St. Landry Parish, a group describing itself as “dedicated to responding to the issues facing our children in the St. Landry Parish School System”, attempted to sit down with Principal Mitch Fontenot at 8:30 a.m. to discuss issues surrounding the school and tour the campus, according to a letter.
The group was met at the door by several Eunice Police officers, including Chief Ronald Dies and Assistant Chief Varden Guillory and were denied entry.
A Eunice News representative was also ejected from the "closed" campus.
The group had notified the school and St. Landry Parish Superintendent Michael Nasiff of their intention to visit the school by letter, dated Sept. 12.
“We contacted the superintendent, and we sent the principal a letter,” said group spokesman Clifton Lemelle, Sr.
No attempt was made to contact Fontenot directly, by phone or in person, to schedule the meeting.
According to School Board policy, no visitors are allowed on school property without authorization from school administrators. It states that visits should be prearranged, and principals are authorized to deal with unauthorized visitors as they see fit.
Earlier this month, Lemelle led a group protesting perceieved racial discrepancies at the St. Landry Parish School Board meeting.
Fontenot said he was willing to meet with board members, with parents of Eunice High students and with Lemelle at 8:30 today, but not with the whole group, saying he did not wish to disrupt school, including testing going on at the time.
Lemelle said that if the whole group could not meet with Fontenot at that point, then he was not going.
“We came as a group, as an organization, and it’s all or nothing,” Lemelle said.
Lemelle said the police presence at the school was less than welcoming.
“It made me feel like I was back in the 60’s,” said Lemelle, a retired educator who was active in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s.
District 3 School Board Member John Miller also refused to attend without the group, and had harsh words for their treatment.
“How disappointed I am that the day would come when parents cannot visit the school. That the principal and superintendent would make a decision that tax-paying citizens coming in an orderly manner to voice their concerns and ask questions would not be allowed to visit the campus,” Miller said.
Eunice-area board members Harry Fruge and Roger Young were not present at the school this morning.
After leaving campus, Lemelle said there were a number of racial issues at Eunice High that the group had wished to discuss.
Fontenot said later in a phone interview that he would have liked to meet with Lemelle and discuss his concerns, had Lemelle been willing to meet with him apart from the group or after school.
Lemelle noted that the process of choosing the Homecoming Court used in the past, selecting four white students, four black students, and the two top vote getters, had been replaced by a system of selecting the top 10 students' vote getters.
In the 2011 Homecoming Court, only two of the ten Maids are black and Lemelle contends it is an effort to block black students from being chosen.
According to Fontenot, Eunice High was the last school in the parish to follow the old selection process, and he was informed by Elanora Stokes of the Department of Justice Office of Civil Rights in Dallas, Texas, that the old policy was in violation of civil rights laws.
Stokes recommended changing the policy as soon as possible, Fontenot said. The new policy was approved by the school board’s attorney and the DoJ attorney involved in the desegregation case.
Fontenot said that of the 20 girls who met the qualifications for Homecoming Maid, only five were black. Three of the five did not make the top 10, as well as seven white girls.
Fontenot said Eunice High has approximately a 65/35 white-to-black ratio.
Lemelle noted in a letter from Fontenot to the Faculty Advisory Committee last school year Fontenot asked the committee to establish qualifications for “Mr. and Miss EHS” to prevent the selection of someone who is not an “ideal student”.
Fontenot said in the letter that some past title holders had not been appropriate representatives of the school, but Lemelle contends that this is another attempt to eliminate black students from consideration.
Fontenot did say that the qualifications for “Mr./Miss EHS” became stricter this year, following a unanimous vote last year by the Faculty Advisory Committee, which contains both black and white members.
“We did this because we want the absolute best representatives for Mr. and Miss EHS, regardless of race,” Fontenot said.
Lemelle also noted that one assistant principal position, traditionally filled by a black candidate, was held open for almost three years until Brandon Bobb, who is black, completed his certification and was hired earlier this month.
“There are many, many qualified black administrators who could have been hired,” Lemelle said. “Instead, they left the position open for three years, denying our students an administrator.”
“I was never approached by anyone interested in the assistant principal position,” Fontenot contended.
Fontenot said Bobb did a superb job as an administrative assistant, was well regarded by students, parents and faculty, so it only made sense to hold the position open for him since no one else expressed an interest in the job.
He was appointed this month after a selection committee recommended him from among several applicants.
Lemelle also noted that black faculty members chair only one of the 16 Homecoming Committees, and few are committee members.
The sole back committee chair is Bobb, who is also the sole member of the Security Committee.
Fontenot said committee chairmanships are chosen by seniority, regardless of race, and amongst those faculty who have an interest in serving.
Lemelle said the group would be visiting other St. Landry Parish schools in the coming days, but Eunice High was the first.