Cleveland School Board members told a public gathering Thursday that the school district may not merge schools this fall unless there is a resolution of a federal desegregation lawsuit before then.

The school board met with community members Thursday morning to answer questions about next steps following a federal appeals court order halting a desegregation plan ordered last May.

A video of the meeting was posted on Facebook by J’Terrica Trotter, an East Side High School student.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay of the federal judge’s desegregation order for the school district on Monday.

On the video an audience member raised concerns as to what will happen if nothing has been resolved by August: “While we’re in this stay, if it is argued and nothing happens between now and August, what is going to happen? Will the children still play at their separate schools?”

George Evans, president of the Cleveland school board, replied yes. Evans told Mississippi Today in a phone call later Thursday that the decision on when the desegregation plan is implemented is “up to the courts, not us.”

On the video the school board attorney, Jamie Jacks, said the school board appealed the judge’s desegregation order and the appeals court stayed the decision based on the arguments the school board has made.

“So what the 5th Circuit has done, they have said wait until we decide this case, we’re not going to have the Cleveland School District implement any plan,” said Jacks. “They want all of it before them.”

On the video Bolivar County Sheriff, Kelvin Williams, Sr., said he felt the school board’s appeal is not in the best interest of the students and is prolonging the plan to move forward with the judge’s decision.

“The kids have voted. They’re ready to move on. Their parents are ready to move on,” said Williams. “You are dividing this community and you’re dividing the school district. You’re causing these problems.”

Students from East Side High School also voiced their opinions at the meeting on how this decision affects them more than anyone.

East Side student Jamese Green expressed how she felt her peers were not included in the process, bringing her to tears. Green said she felt that the board was more concerned with how alumni would feel about the decision.

“You all were worried about alumni. They have their diploma, I don’t,” said Green.

The stay had been requested in an appeal filed with the appeals court by the school board in July as it worked to address the mandates of the federal court order issued last May.

The appeals court indicated that it would hear oral arguments on the matter in April.

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Aallyah Wright is a native of Clarksdale, and was a Mississippi Delta reporter covering education and local government. She was also a weekly news co-host on WROX Radio (97.5 FM) and collaborator with StoryWorks/Reveal Labs from the Center for Investigative Reporting. Aallyah has a bachelor’s in journalism with minors in communications and theater from Delta State University. She is a 2018 Educating Children in Mississippi Fellow at the Hechinger Report, and co-founder of the Mississippi Delta Public Newsroom.