Thomas Graning / The Natchez Democrat — Natchez Police Department Detective Jerry Ford walks into a meeting Wednesday evening at New Hope The Vision Center. Ford was among various residents who attended a closed-door meeting about the Natchez-Adams School District.
Thomas Graning / The Natchez Democrat — Natchez Police Department Detective Jerry Ford walks into a meeting Wednesday evening at New Hope The Vision Center. Ford was among various residents who attended a closed-door meeting about the Natchez-Adams School District.

NHS fight, principal resigning discussed at private meeting

Published 12:12am Thursday, May 15, 2014

NATCHEZ The arrest of 17 Natchez High students and the subsequent resignation of the school’s principal sparked a closed-door meeting Wednesday evening among a group of residents, parents, teachers and elected city leaders.

Representatives of The Natchez Democrat were prohibited from attending the hour-long meeting at New Hope The Vision Center.

Those in attendance included Alderman Ricky Gray, Natchez Police Chief Danny White, Natchez National Association for the Advancement of Colored People President the Rev. Clifton Marvel, NHS parents and NASD employees including teachers and coaches.

The conversations escalated at times and could be heard from the parking lot. The topics overheard from outside the building included the resignation of NHS Principal Fred Butcher earlier this week and the altercation at the school.

Natchez Police Department Detective Jerry Ford, who was also at Wednesday’s meeting, said officers were dispatched to the high school at approximately 1 p.m. Monday regarding a disturbance.

“We don’t know what caused it, but they just said there was a large group of students that were in the gymnasium who were fighting,” Ford said. “When we got there, everything was under control, and we transported the suspects to jail.”

Ford said 17 NHS students were arrested and charged with disturbing the peace. Ford said all of the students arrested were processed as juveniles and thus the suspect’s names would not be released due to the students’ ages. All of the students were eventually released from custody, Ford said.

NASD safety and security supervisor Ray Brown said Wednesday he would not discuss details of the incident and referred all questions to NASD Superintendent Frederick Hill.

Hill did not respond to messages Wednesday evening asking about the fight.

Earlier in the day, however, Hill commented on Butcher’s Tuesday resignation, but declined to go into specific details.

“I know there’s a lot of commotion going on right now concerning the move,” Hill said. “All I’m going to say is that Mr. Butcher retired, and that’s it.”

Natchez resident Barney Schoby, whose daughter was one of the 17 arrested, was at the meeting Wednesday and said he was not pleased with the conversations that took place at the meeting.

“Everything that was said at that meeting was about bringing Mr. Butcher back or the teachers being able to secure a job for the following year,” Schoby said. “Not one conversation was structured around the children of the Natchez-Adams School District or them being in an environment that is clearly unsafe for the students.”

Schoby said he was upset with how district administrators handled Monday’s altercation, which he said included taking all the students to jail without first notifying parents.

“How are you going to do all that without even contacting a parent?” Schoby said. “These children were taken to jail in handcuffs without one single parent being notified or given any kind of due process whatsoever.”

NASD Board of Trustees President Tim Blalock said he was not aware of the altercation that took place simply because of the policies and procedures in place to keep the board as unbiased as possible for possible disciplinary hearings in the future.

Blalock said the district’s procedure to handling disciplinary infractions includes having a hearing officer appointed, who is usually an outside attorney, to hear all the facts of the case.

The hearing officer, Blalock said, then makes one of two decisions: to uphold the decision made by the district administrator or overturn the decision.

“If it’s upheld, they can then bring that matter to the school board where the parents, or whoever, has a chance to present their case,” Blalock said. “We don’t want to have our opinions tainted in any way because we’re kind of the appellate court in that situation making the final decision.”

Blalock encouraged all parents with students involved in the altercation this week to follow the proper procedures in place in the district for disciplinary infractions.

Michelangelo