North Iberville High supporters continue to press school’s case; Al Sharpton is no-show

DEIDRE CRUSE, Governmental Reporter
VOICE OF OPPOSITION ... Residents from the northern part of Iberville Parish voice their disapproval of the planned closure of North Iberville High School. The rally was promoted in part by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Police tried to clear the Iberville Parish School Board meeting room Monday night when the board president refused to allow a substitute to plead the case for keeping North Iberville High School open and the high school’s supporters began to sing.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, the nationally known civil rights activist, was scheduled join a march – the third in the attempt to save the high school -- and address the board, but was a no-show.

Board President Melvin Lodge refused to allow another proponent to take Sharpton’s place on the agenda. He made the ruling minutes after Plaquemine Board Member Dorothy R. Sansoni ‘s unsuccessful attempt to have him unseated as president.

“Uncle Tom,” someone from the audience called to Lodge, a black board member representing St. Gabriel.

“Come by here, my Lord, come by here,” the crowd inside the meeting room began to sing.

“If you don’t stop, you will be removed from the room,” Plaquemine Police Capt. Kenneth Payne announced. “...Everybody has to leave.”

Most filed out, but a dozen or so remained as the Rev. Dr. Byron Clay, national president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Spiver Gordon of Plaquemine, the organization’s national treasurer, knelt in the front of the boardroom. Clay prayed for God to “speak to their hearts.”

“If you do not leave, you will be arrested,” a deputy announced.

City police officers and deputies stood by, however, as Clay continued his long prayer. The remaining North Iberville supporters sang “This Little Light of Mine” as they filed out of the room.

“Our business or no business,” Gordon called as he left the room.

Meanwhile, an officer started pulling shut the doors the board uses when it goes into executive session.

“You can’t close the doors,” Board Member Stanley Washington declared. He started pushing the doors back.

After the North Iberville supporters were outside, officers locked the outside door to the public meeting room.

The only arrest took place after the contentious meeting, and on an unrelated matter.

Former board member Janice Anderson of Maringouin, who had attended the meeting, was arrested after she allegedly tried to take her official School Board photo from the wall in the hallway outside the boardroom.

An officer who was in the hall tried to subdue her, as Superintendent P. Edward Cancienne Jr. dived for the door to open it to allow officers outside to come in to assist in the arrest.

A few people remaining from the “Save Our School” demonstration tried to get into the hallway to see about Anderson, but were turned back.

Police handcuffed Anderson and led her to a patrol car. They later photographed Anderson’s picture and the frame from which it had been removed, and arranged to take the hallway surveillance tapes as evidence.

Anderson was booked two blocks away at Plaquemine Police Headquarters on charges of resisting arrest, simple criminal damage to property and remaining on premises after being forbidden, Capt. Steve Bezet said. She was released on a $7,500 bond.

At the station, Anderson told a reporter she noticed her pictured on the wall and took the frame down to tell Dr. Cancienne that she was taking her picture with her because she no longer wanted to deal with the Iberville Parish School board office.

According to Anderson, Cancienne agreed, but once a policeman asked what she was doing, the superintendent accused her of stealing school board property. Before she could do anything, she said several officers“attacked” her because she wouldn’t put the frame down.

Anderson said she was hit in the arm and pushed into the wall, and that she bruised the left side of her body when she fell.

“I wasn’t resisting the cops, I became excited because my nieces saw what was going on, and I wanted them to calm down and understand I was ok. I was actually defending myself. I had more than one cop on me, and I am a woman. How was I suppose to react?”

Cancienne said he told her she could not have the picture.

Before the meeting, North Iberville school supporters gathered at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church on Bayou Jacob Road.

Sharpton at first was reported to be running late. Dr. Clay later announced that Sharpton had been unable to make connections to attend. The New York activist spoke to the crowd briefly by cell phone before that connection failed.

Sharpton said that people might think there was no concern “because it’s a little town in Louisiana.”

“Jena was a little town,” he said, referring to his appearances in support of the so-called “Jena Six.” “When we get through with y’all, the whole world is going to know.”

“In all my travels, I haven’t seen such determination by any community or group of people,” Clay told the assembly. “When I came to you all, we committed to fight this good right with you all to the end.”

He said he had called the Rev. Mr. Sharpton to join the right, but that it did not mater that he had not been able to attend.

“What does matter is that you stay committed to the course,” Clay said. “You cannot stop, and we will not stop.”

The group marched to the School Board’s Central Office on Plaquemine Street, and held a second rally in the parking lot with songs and chants, including one that “Dr. Ed’s got to go, Cancienne’s got to go.”

Two people continued to carry a sign reading, “Daigle has got to go!!!!”

It referred to Board Member David “Worm” Daigle of Grosse Tete, who voted with the majority in the board’s 8-7 vote to close North Iberville High School and send its 155 seventh through 12th graders to Plaquemine High School this fall.

Kesa LeGarde, who is circulating a recall petition against Daigle, said she had Mary Ann Bayham have collected 500 of the needed 518 signatures. They expect to file the completed recall papers to the Secretary of State’s Office next week, she said.

“It shouldn’t have had to come to this,” said Maringouin Mayor John F. Overton. “He [Daigle] represents North Iberville.”

Overton said the three north Iberville communities depend on the school, although the majority are from Maringouin, the largest town in the area.

The mayor, whose youngest daughter is a student there, and other parents have filed suit to stop the board from closing the school. A court hearing is set for July 22.

Inside, north Iberville’s other board member, Washington, asked the Personnel Committee to hold off action affecting the high school’s personnel until after the lawsuit is settled.

“I don’t think we should reassign any teachers from North Iberville till the lawsuit is complete,” Washington said.

“This process is in place,” Dr. Cancienne said, and it would be “inappropriate” to interrupt it.

Board Member Sansoni asked for the committee to hold off until they presented the personnel recommendations to the full board. The board’s legal counsel would be present then to advise them, she said.

“We’re making a decision here that we don’t know if it’s legal,” Sansoni said.

The committee agreed to Cancienne’s recommendations for the transfers, and later the full board approved them.

Before the full board, Sansoni called for a point of order to allow a reconsideration of the vote to close North Iberville High.

Lodge rejected her attempt.

“When I first spoke to you concerning this motion, you indicated it was no problem,” Sansoni told the president.

“I had a discussion with [special board attorney] Bob Hammonds. He said it was my call,” Lodge said. “We will not discuss it any further, and that’s the end of it.”

“If I call for a point of order, it doesn’t have to be on the agenda,” Sansoni said.

When Lodge did not respond, she called for another point of order to unseat Lodge as president.

Chief Financial Officer Jolain Landry said it would require a 100 percent vote of the board to put Sansoni’s motion on the agenda. The vote failed.

Late in the meeting, the board approved hiring New Orleans attorney Michael R. Fontham and the law firm of Stone Pigman to represent the board in the Overton suit.

Assistant District Attorney Louis Delahaye, who advises the board, said the contract called for the firm to be paid a rate of $260 an hour.

Candace Edwards contributed to this story.