NAACP questions Opp board

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Members of the Opp Board of Education on Tuesday responded to concerns voiced from members of the local chapter of the NAACP over topics ranging from suspension to extra-curricular activities.

NAACP Chapter 5049 President Aaron Bogan and Vice President Holly Brundidge spoke to BOE members about issues they said local parents brought to their attention.

Chief among parent concerns was unfair treatment of students at the hands of teachers, according to Brundidge.

“You can’t pick and choose who you want to teach,” she told board members, adding her own, personal concerns about teachers reached as far as improper certification.

Brundidge also asked members for an explanation for what she said many perceive as funding applied to sports and non-teacher-certified coaches, rather than to elective courses, such as home economics and shop.

Opp City Schools Superintendent Michael Smithart said the issues needed to be addressed one at a time.

“We have a number of teachers pursuing alternative routes to certification that are accepted by the state,” Smithart said. “Everyone who is in a teaching role is certified, or is pursuing certification.”

Smithart also addressed both electives and any allegations of neglect or misbehavior on the part of teachers.

“If there is ever a problem, we deal with it,” he said. “Now, if we deal with something, and we never hear from it again, we have to assume it is handled. If it happens again, it’s a very different situation.”

Smithart also said that what may seem like a lack of elective courses at Opp High School, is actually the result of a shift towards dual enrollment.

“We have been taking part in dual-enrollment classes at LBWCC,” he said. “It’s free to students and they earn college credit in things like welding and shop. It’s actually better, because (LBW) has better equipment. They do a better job than we ever could, because they specialize in it.”

Bogan also voiced concerns he said parents have reported to his organization, focusing mainly on the issue children being suspended from school.

“We shouldn’t have kids out there walking the streets,” Bogan said. “They say there are being suspended for not going to class and things like that, and there’s got to be a better way than throwing them out of school. That leads to kids dropping out.”

Smithart acknowledged suspension issues as a problem, adding the BOE and NAACP should convene in order to discuss possible punishment alternatives.

“I agree with you,” he told Bogan. “Even one student suspended from school is too many; however, we have to address what causes suspensions, and that is behavior.”

Smithart said, thus far in the 2013-14 school year, 30 students have been suspended from Opp High School for any amount of time (one to five days). Eight of those suspensions, he said, were due to four separate fights. Another 11 he attributed to five other incidents.

“It’s too many, but it’s not a huge number,” Smithart said. “That being said, if a student is suspended, he shouldn’t be walking the streets. But that’s a parenting issue; not a school issue.”

Smithart also pointed to Opp High School having the highest graduation rate in Covington County, at 88 percent, as well as a 26-percent participation in dual-enrollment, as proof the school is on the right track, but added more can always be done.

“We don’t have all of the answers,” he said. “And we are certainly willing to sit down with anyone that thinks that they may be able to offer a better way.”

While Brundidge proposed a possible form for parents with concerns who feel more comfortable addressing problems through third parties, such as the NAACP, Smithart said face-to-face is always the clearer route to a solution.

“Not only does it take away a lot of the legal concerns, but it allows us to keep from something being lost or not conveyed correctly through forms or emails,” he said.