‘Fired up!’ N. Iberville High backers march on School Board

NATIONAL CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST...Comedian and long-time civil rights activist Dick Gregory talks to North Iberville residents loutside an Iberville Parish School Board meeting Monday night. Gregory and other members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference came to Plaquemine to join a fight to save North Iberville High School from closure.

A crowd of students and others determined to keep North Iberville High School open joined a march Monday on the Iberville Parish School Board, but found no relief.

Civil rights activist Dick Gregory and members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) joined the North Iberville residents, who chanted “fired up!” before, during and after a contentious board meeting. They wore red tee shirts with large the white letters “S.O.S.” for “save our school.”

They pledged to continue to fight to keep the school open, possibly by filing a lawsuit.

“We’re gong to make our stand,” said Maringouin Mayor John F. Overton. “North Iberville will stay open one way or another. Whatever you want to do, I am ready.”

Meanwhile, Superintendent P. Edward Cancienne Jr. issued a statement again explaining his difficult decision to recommend sending North Iberville students in grades 7-12 to Plaquemine High starting this fall. The transfer, he said, would give them academic and social opportunities not possible at the smaller school.

“Moving North students to Plaquemine High is traumatic at best, but the devastation of not moving is even greater,” Dr. Cancienne said.

Last month, School Board voted 8-7 to adopt Cancienne’s recommendation, despite protests from school supporters who crowded the meeting room.

North Iberville residents have launched a recall petition against Board Member David “Worm” Daigle of Grosse Tete, who voted with Cancienne. With just over a fifth of the 500 signatures needed for a recall, they continued to pass the petition outside the board meeting Monday night.

“This is the time to stand up,” Board Member Stanley Washington of Maringouin told a crowd gathered at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church before the march. “Last month, we did everything we could to change their hearts. Their hearts were hardened.”

“Fight on. You’re going to win this,” Board Member Dorothy R. Sansoni of Plaquemine told the assembly.

Board Member Albertha Hasten of White Castle recalled a similar fight several years a go to save White Castle High School based on an earlier superintendent’s recommendation.

“[Cancienne] still might close it tomorrow,” Hasten said. “That’s why we have to support each other...He said he wasn’t going to close any schools in the master plan.”

Sansoni and Hasten were among the seven board members who voted with Washington to save the school.

Spiver Gordon, an Iberville Parish resident who serves as national treasurer for the SCLC, said, in taking “this little march to freedom,” the group was standing on the shoulders of Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers, Coretta Scott King and other civil rights leaders.

Like the “trick horse” that won the recent Kentucky Derby, Gregory said, “we’re going to win.”

“Make sure they understand that we mean business,” Gordon said. “We’ll stay, and we’ll go to jail.

When we get out, we’ll go right back. Y’all with me?”

“Are you willing to go where the journey is going to take us,” asked Dr. Jason Dyson, state president of SCLC. “Some of us came here willing to go to jail...This journey is going to take us to victory.”

Maj. Johnny Blanchard, head of the uniform patrol for the Iberville Sheriff’s Office, along with numerous off-duty deputies and Plaquemine Police officers stood by at the church. They accompanied the marchers to the School Board Office, and stood by throughout the board meeting.

There were no arrests, Blanchard said Tuesday morning.

The chanting marchers arrived outside the board meeting at 4:40 p.m., and held a rally outside until the 6 p.m. meeting.

When word went out that the building would accommodate only 65 of them for in the meeting room, Sansoni and Hasten complained that the capacity had never been enforced before that night.

Gordon told the crowd outside that there was nothing to stop the ones left outside from making so much noise that they interrupted the meeting.

Inside, Washington attempted a challenge on a technical ground of the board’s vote to close the school.

The North Iberville board member said the school had only one identification number with the state, so that the board could not “close” the high school alone. The written recommendation and the motion the board passed used the word “close,” he said, although the superintendent used the word “transfer” in his written explanation of the action.

Cancienne said he has correspondence from the state Department of Education “saying it was in line.”

“You’re out of order,” said Board Member Tom Delahaye of Plaquemine told Washington.

“We are only asking for clarification,” Washington said.

BACK TO THE FUTURE...Spiver Gordon of Plaquemine, the national treasurer of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, talks to an “overflow” crowd at the School Board’s Central Office. Officials enforced the 65-person limit in the board’s meeting room, leaving outside many who marched in support of keeping North Iberville High School open. Many of them stayed on even after an evening rain began.