Mound Bayou residents pursue legal action to keep high school open

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SHELBY — Residents from Mound Bayou are fighting to keep their high school open as district officials move forward with consolidation plans.

In January, the North Bolivar Consolidated School District board voted 3-2 to close John F. Kennedy Memorial High School in Mound Bayou and Shelby School, the middle school in Shelby.

The decision was met with a public outcry from Mound Bayou citizens, who said that closing JFK would wipe away a significant aspect of the town’s storied history.

Kelsey Davis, Mississippi Today

Gil Thompson talks to Mound Bayou residents about the closing of John F. Kennedy Memorial High School.

They’ve since been circulating a petition in Mound Bayou and Shelby to advocate against closing the schools. They’ve also hired attorney Debra Giles, and are expecting to pursue legal action. Giles could not be reached for comment.

“From the JFK side, it’s been utter dismay. We’ve tried to see how some people in the Shelby community feel because they have tradition and heritage too, which will cease to grow,” said Gil Thompson. Thompson is the chairman of JFK United, a group formed to advocate for keeping the Mound Bayou high school open.

Superintendent Maurice Smith cited declining funds, certified teachers and dipping enrollment for why the schools needed to close.

Under the new plan, all seventh through twelfth graders will go to the high school in Shelby, while sixth graders and below will either go to Brooks Elementary in Duncan or I.T. Montgomery in Mound Bayou. Smith said the Shelby location was chosen for the high school because it has more space available.

On Monday night, plans to open the new consolidated high school moved forward, when the school board voted to approve a new name, mascot and colors for the school.

Students voted to re-name the high school North Side High School. The colors will be blue and orange and the mascot will be an alligator.

“It was very stressful for those young men and young ladies, but they did address the issue in an appropriate manner,” Smith said at the school board meeting.

The following evening, people from Mound Bayou met at a church in Shelby to discuss next steps.

They expressed frustration at the school board’s lack of effort to solicit community input before making a decision as well as frustration toward the state for forcing Mound Bayou school district to merge with North Bolivar school district years ago.

Before a bill passed in 2012 to consolidate several Delta school districts for cost saving purposes, Mound Bayou was its own district. At the time of the bill’s passing, a Mississippi Business Journal analysis found it was one of the state’s most financially sound districts. It was also the only school district in Bolivar County rated “successful” by the state. Since consolidating districts, Shelby residents have taken control of the board and now outnumber Mound Bayou residents 3-2.

“The state legislature made it law to consolidate, but you destabilized a stable school district. So now instead of one stable school district and one unstable you now have two unstable school districts. The state of Mississippi should have to answer for that,” Thompson said.