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School board agrees to create a new policy to replace access ban

Memphis-Shelby County School Board members will explore revising its policy about maintaining both order and public safety during board meetings.

The board made the commitment after much discussion during its Tuesday (May 30) business meeting.

The review stemmed from the banning of five activists from board meetings and district property following a May 9 board meeting. They were cited for breaking meeting rules and being disruptive. 

At Tuesday’s meeting, members of the Memphis-Shelby County Schools Board of Commissioners were repeatedly criticized for the ban on five activists. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

The ban has drawn criticism, which was actively expressed Tuesday when a group of community members addressed commissioners on behalf of the activists, who rallied outside prior to the meeting’s start. 

They carried signs reading: “Full Transparency,” “No Ban,” “Don’t Silence Us.”

The five banned activists are former teacher’s union president Tikelia Rucker; former school board candidate Rachael Spriggs, and Damon Morris, LJ Abraham, and Amber Sherman. 

During the May 9 board meeting, board Chair Althea Greene cut off comments about the search for superintendent. 

After visibly signaling to one another, the activists were seen leaving the meeting as two panic sound devices were dropped as they walked out. 

“We received letters about 30 minutes before we showed up here,” Spriggs screamed through a bullhorn. “They sent us text messages. They defamed us, saying that we are a danger to the public. How are we a danger? Nobody had to escort us out of the meeting. We said what we had to say and walked out on our own.”

Morris wondered aloud who put the ban in place.

“Who issued a ban against us? Was it Althea Greene? Was it Keith Williams? Was it Michelle McKissack? We want to know who it was?” Morris told the small gathering outside the building.

Abraham was the only banned activist who did not attend the rally. Activists lamented to supporters that their First Amendments rights were being violated by banning them from school district property.

Spriggs pushed back on comments from Commissioner Keith Williams regarding decorum and “uncivilized behavior.”

“All of this from the School Board is working toward dismantling the public school system,” said Spriggs. “We are not allowed in the meetings. We are not allowed in the committee work sessions. Decorum is for people who are heard. Decorum is for people who are listened to.”

Spriggs said the contention started with the group’s objection to how the search for a new superintendent was being conducted. She accused the board of being secretive and keeping the public in the dark.

One supporter denounced the process for allowing the interim to become a candidate for superintendent.

“The very nature of the interim, first and foremost, is that he or she does not want the job,” said a woman, holding a “No Ban” sign.  “They not only let this interim become a candidate, but she was allowed to continue serving as the schools’ superintendent. That was just wrong.”

Attendees at the Memphis-Shelby County Schools Board meeting. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

MSCS Chief Security Officer Carolyn Jackson said district officials are trying to meet with the activists to bring some resolution. 

Jackson said the five were identified and banned “for their disruptive action and violation of rules.”

Board members were shown the May 9 video, but at least one thought the bans went too far.

Commissioner Frank Johnson said, “Not all of the activists participated with the panic alarms.”

Commissioner Kevin Woods said anyone banned should receive written notice and the opportunity to appeal the action.

Greene and Jackson will meet to devise a timeline for setting safety policy revisions that also will protect the right of individuals to speak. 

On Wednesday (May 31), Greene said Jackson informed her that meetings with two activists would not be taking place.

“I was told that a meeting with two of the activists would not be happening,” said Greene. “They do not want to meet at this time. Our security officials will continue reaching out.”

 

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