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Furious over administrative decisions, pastors demand school ‘justice’

Saying they will not rest until justice is served and a resolution is found, three area pastors returned to the Halifax County School Board meeting Monday evening with a stern warning for the superintendent and board members.

The trio of pastors continued to express disappointment and concern over recent administrative decisions.

 “Be forewarned we will not rest…until justice and resolution has commenced,” said Rev. Frank Coleman Jr., pastor of First Baptist Church, and president of the South Boston/Halifax County Branch of the NAACP. He also represented himself as a member and spokesperson for the division of clergy of the Banister Missionary Baptist Association.

During last month’s school board meeting, several citizens, including Coleman, spoke out objecting to recent administrative and board decisions that left employees demoted, terminated or with adjusted salaries.

According to Coleman, the school administration’s response has been “empty rhetoric, arrogance, diversion and literal falsehood.”

Coleman pointed out board members “are reaping what you sow.

“You respond by saying that all are free to call you. But hello, why would people already intimidated by you call you? That is why I’m speaking. White, black and Hispanic are calling me to speak out for them. You have already caused them to feel they can’t call you. You have already destroyed their morale,” said Coleman.

“You accuse us of emphasizing the negative and not the positive…that is precisely the reason why we are speaking today. For in spite of the great work of your employees, you chose to reward them by demoting them, cutting them, no longer renewing contracts and forcing them to retire,” he added.

“Negative acts bring negative response. Change your acts, and we will change our response,” he added.

Coleman, along with an association of ministers, requested a meeting with board members and the superintendent as soon as possible in order to resolve the concerns at hand.

Pastor of St. James Baptist Church in Scottsburg, the Rev. Barry Blackwell, addressed concerns for education and why over 85 percent of the layoffs in Halifax County involved African-Americans when so many of these employees have been with the school system for several years and have good work ethics. 

 “Are we doing God’s will?” Blackwell asked board members calling on them “to be fair.”

The Rev. Kevin Chandler, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, also encouraged all board members to carry out their oath to do what’s right for the county.

“I encourage all of you board members to deal with the issues that are before you…keep the children first in all of your decisions,” said Chandler.

He asked board members to make those decisions in a way that wouldn’t affect individuals or punish individuals who have served the school system or county well. 

“Search your heart…make the right decisions and do the right thing. Serve this county so that we might be proud, and the children will become successful,” said Chandler.

Vice Chairman R. K. “Dick” Stoneman, in the absence of Chairman Kimberly Farson, chaired Monday night’s meeting and opened the floor for board members to respond to the three men’s comments. He permitted board members to have three minutes each to respond.

ED-5 trustee Roger Long was the first to respond.

“My phone line has been open. I have responded to anyone who has called me, and I will continue to keep that line open,” said Long.

ED-4 trustee Cheryl Terry responded to Blackwell’s specific comments regarding layoffs of African-Americans within the school system.

“Make sure you have your facts correct. Other things we simply cannot discuss if they are personnel issues, simply cannot and will not discuss. Now the comment about African-Americans, African-Americans lead the two largest schools in our county. I am a woman of color, and I can assure you I do my very best to make sure that we are not making our decisions based upon the color of someone’s skin,” said Terry. 

“If you want to meet with us…have respect and call us, we will be there, take my word for it. We want to work together. We serve the community. We were elected by the community. We are here to work with you. Just call us. That’s all we ask. We will be there I promise you. As far as intimidating people, look at me. I don’t intimidate anybody. I’m not here to intimidate. I’m here to seek advice and help better educate our children,” said Stoneman.

ED-6 trustee Fay Satterfield said she felt the board had their hands tied because those employees who had job changes could go out in the community and “tell anything they want too, and we can’t respond to it because it’s a personnel matter, so we are at a disadvantage about that.”  

Satterfield added she hadn’t heard from any of her constituents so she “doesn’t know what you want.”