N. Iberville High suit postponed till October

DEIDRE CRUSE, Governmental Reporter

District Judge Robin Free had promised a ruling in a suit challenging the closing of North Iberville High School, but postponed the trial scheduled last Wednesday after the plaintiffs hired a tax attorney and challenged the School Board on fresh grounds.

The judge is expected to set a new trial date in October. Superintendent P. Edward Cancienne Jr. confirmed that Judge Free has discussed with attorneys in the case the possibility of moving the trial from the Courthouse to North Iberville High School.

Meanwhile, the 150 North Iberville students in grades seven to 12 are attending school in Port Allen, Livonia and the new North Iberville Christian Academy, which opened Monday, as well as at Plaquemine High School, where the School Board assigned them.

School Supervisor of Child Welfare and Attendance William Bujol said all the students have been accounted for. He said school resource officers and others have been checking on the status of students registered at all Iberville Parish public schools.

Since the board voted 8-7 in April to close North Iberville High, residents have protested the action, bringing in the Southern Christian Leadership Council to organize marches on the School Board. Last week’s board meeting was the first since April without a march.

Maringouin Mayor John F. Overton of Maringouin and other parents of school-age children filed the suit against the board to stop the closure. The original petition, filed by Baton Rouge attorney Gideon T. Carter III, alleged Superintendent P. Edward Cancienne Jr. illegally polled the School Board before the close vote.

The plaintiffs additionally have hired Russell J. Stutes, a Lake Charles attorney who specializes in taxes. Stutes has added arguments to the original suit about the use of a 31-mill tax voters passed last year, Saying it constitutes“a trust fund to be used exclusively for the purpose for which the tax was levied,” including improvements promised for North Iberville High.

School officials raised questions this week about Stutes’ sending copies of letters about the North Iberville lawsuit to Edward A. “Lucky” Songy Jr., Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso’s chief administrative officer, and about why the parish president’s office would be involved.

Songy referred the question to Ourso, who said Stutes is the attorney for the Iberville Sales Tax Department and that copying the North Iberville mail to Songy, who oversees the department, might have been a clerical error.

“I’m not involved in any way in their doings in North Iberville,” the parish president said. He said he and other parishwide officials met early on with Dr. Cancienne to ask the superintendent to reconsider his recommendation to close North Iberville, but that Cancienne had made up his mind. “...I think a secretary made a mistake.”

Also this week, Board Member Stanley Washington of Maringouin, who has led the fight to save his area’s only high school, said the State Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) has closed the second drawbridge between the North End and Plaquemine for two weeks, making the trip to Plaquemine High even longer.

Parents of North Iberville students have protested the daily two-hour round-trip commute to Plaquemine.