Supporters bank on lawsuit, media attention to save school; Daigle recall case to be challenged

DEIDRE CRUSE, Governmental Reporter

Supporters of North Iberville High School are pinning their hopes on saving the school on a lawsuit scheduled in 18th Judicial District Court next week, and attention from the national media.

“We will not stop,” said Dr. Byron Clay, national president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), who led a fourth march on the Iberville Parish School Board Monday afternoon. “We will keep coming, keep coming, keep coming.”

District Judge Robin Free scheduled a hearing for 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Courthouse on a lawsuit Maringouin Mayor John F. Overton and others filed on behalf of their school-age children in an effort to force the School Board to keep the North End’s only high school open.

Clay said his organization plans to bring prominent civil rights activists, including members of the Martin Luther King Jr. family and the Rev. Al Sharpton, to Plaquemine for the court hearing. He also plans to call on CNN to send news crews to focus national attention on the issue. He said Sharpton’s brother; Kenny Glasgow Sharpton was with the group Monday.

“We will spotlight this town,” he said. “There is an observable wrong here.”

The School Board voted 8-7 on April 22 to close North Iberville High and send the 7th-12th grade students to Plaquemine High School when school starts on August 10.

A new local group, North Iberville Concern Citizens Inc., with support from SCLC has staged a march on the School Board at each of its monthly meetings since April, first in an attempt to keep prevent the closure vote, and then in attempts to get the issue back on the board’s agenda for reconsideration.

Actors Todd Bridges, Tico Wells and Clyde Jones came from Los Angeles to join the latest march. Clay said Al Sharpton’s brother, Kenny Glasgow Sharpton, also was with the group.

North Iberville supporters, again in their red “SOS” – Save Our School -- tee shirts marched on the Central Office and crowded in to the meeting room there.

School Board Member Dorothy R. Sansoni of Plaquemine asked Board President Melvin Lodge of St. Gabriel to put the issue on the agenda. Lodge again denied the request.

Meanwhile, the citizens group is planning to file a federal court suit challenging the Iberville Voter Registrar Melissa S. Bourgoyne’s certified count on a recall petition circulated against School Board Member David “Worm” Daigle of Grosse Tete, said The Rev. Reginald L. Pitcher, the group’s president.

The group targeted Daigle after he voted with the slim majority to close the high school. Daigle later collected the names of 98 people who wanted to withdraw their names from the recall petition.

Pitcher leveled accusations against the registrar at a press conference outside Bourgoyne’s Courthouse office last Thursday afternoon to challenge the results and to “point out questionable practices and irregularities in the handling of the recall process.”

Bourgoyne said she and her staff worked meticulously to check the names on the recall petition. The count showed the petitioners were 58 signatures short of the 518needed for a recall election.

“I stand behind my certification,” Bourgoyne said Friday.

She said she was “disappointed, to say the least” at the allegations levied against her.

“Go to court and let a judge decide,” Bourgoyne said. “Don’t keep making these defamatory [remarks] in the media.”

Pitcher said he consulted attorney Gideon Carter about filing suit, and that he wanted Voting Rights Act suit filed in federal court this week.

“We think it would stand a better chance there than in the local courts,” he said.

Pitcher said his group gave Bourgoyne the petitions with the signatures of 735 people, which was later reduced to 535 during the checking process and then to 460 when the withdrawals Daigle presented were factored in.

“We’re going through the list now,” he said in an interview Friday. “Quite a few people she left out were registered voters who live in the district.”

Pitcher said Bourgoyne counted 92 of the signatures on Daigle’s list, which included the names of “two or three that we knew were felons.” He said they verified those claims through a local police department, which he would not name.

“We contend the registrar of voters was simply doing as she was told, by the ‘so-called’ powers that be, to make sure that we were not successful,” Pitcher charged in a statement last week.

“That’s some serious allegations they’re making,” Bourgoyne said.

She said neither Daigle nor any other “political person” tried to influence her handling of the recall petition.

“[Daigle] did they same thing they did,” Bourgoyne said of Pitcher’s group, calling to ask when her office would finish going through the lists.

“I spent an enormous amount of time with the organizers of the recall answering their questions and incurring the wrath of their frustration,” the registrar said a written statement. “While I appreciate that they have the right to publicly attack the credibility of my office and harshly criticize my ability as registrar of voters, the petition is not at the governor’s office, and I cannot and will not alter anything on my certification of the recall petition.”