By John Brice
Protesters from LaFayette Teachers Against Displacement made their voices heard loud and clear at the Chambers County Board of Education Meeting on Wednesday, October 25th of 2023. Shortly after the meeting began, Chambers County School District legal counsel Bob Meadows informed protest organizer and UNITE Inc. executive director Travis Smith that displaying signs going forward would be considered disruptive at the request of CCBOE President Jeffrey Finch which in legal terms according to Alabama law can be considered grounds for arrest.
Law enforcement jurisdiction at the CCSD BOE building falls under the LaFayette Police Department whose Chief George Rampey was present along with several LPD officers as well as Chambers County Sheriff’s deputies who were all present to keep the peace. Chief Rampey personally collected the signs from the protesters in compliance with the jurisdictional responsibilities that his department is sworn to uphold within the city limits.
After completing some of the formal procedures Assistant Superintendent David Owen introduced Edwards & Associates, Inc. Chief Executive Officer Dr. Lonnie J. Edwards, Sr. whose educational consulting firm has entered into a formal agreement with the CCSD to assist with moving forward towards unitary status.
According to Dr. Edwards’ official LinkedIn page, his Stone Mountain, Georgia based consulting firm “offers expertise and support in the field of education. Our firm provides educational-related services to school systems, early childcare and education centers, non-profit groups, civic and community organizations, faith-based organizations, and other educational providers. These services include, but are not limited to, social and emotional learning strategies, personal and leadership development, diversity assessment and management, program evaluation, workshop facilitation, training, and motivational speaking. We have a cadre of current and retired educators from the teaching and leadership ranks that are incorporated into consulting assignments as needed. Edwards & Associates, Inc.’s CEO, Dr. Lonnie J. Edwards, Sr., has extensive experience in the field of Education, progressing from a classroom teacher to a Superintendent of Schools in an urban setting.”
L-TAD organizer and Valley High School teacher Tytianna Smith was next on the agenda to address the board. Smith began her address by stating “My name is Ty Smith and I am a native of LaFayette, Alabama. I am the former science teacher of LaFayette High School and the current physical science teacher at Valley High School. In addition, I serve as an organizer for the community. I am here today to advocate on behalf of concerned teachers, parents, citizens and students of the county. Before I get started, I would be remiss if I did not thank the Board of Education for giving me the opportunity to advocate on behalf of the community. Although Dr. Chambley was hesitant on putting me on the agenda, I am grateful that you decided to honor my right as a citizen unlike our rights to hold signs, to speak at this state mandated public meeting.”
She went on to continue “First, I would like to highlight the recent events at LaFayette High School. Everyone has heard of the fights, believe me, I am not going to blame the fights on you even though you all do play an active role in our oppression. I am here to share collective responsibility in assuring that our kids have safe spaces. That includes that our kids have activities outside of sports to participate in so that they won’t resort to violence in place of work. Our kids need safe spaces, activities to express their creativity. The incidents over the past few weeks have proven now more than ever that LaFayette, Alabama needs a community center. I would personally ask the Chambers County School District to set your pride outside and meet with our city council to negotiate for the J.P. Powell building. You all negotiated with Five Points, why are we any different?”
Concluding her thoughts, Smith provided an extensive list of community grievances against the district related to retaliation against teachers, staff, students and parents as well as banning UNITE, discriminatory disciplinary actions, budgetary mistreatment of LHS Bulldog athletics, hiring irregularities, improper personnel transfers and a consistent lack of support for victims of racism and bullying. At the end of her speech, Smith was joined by her fellow protesters in a chant of “No equity, no peace!” before being promptly escorted outside the building by the LPD.
Once the protesters regrouped in front of the building, Travis Smith addressed the crowd through a portable public address system and shared his thoughts at length in regard to unfair practices carried out by the district.
In a stunning turn of events, Assistant Superintendent Owen showed up nearby as a counter-protester, having changed out of his suit and tie into casual clothes. Owen held up his own sign accusing the protesters of promoting what he characterized as “false narratives” to which he intended to “fact check” with quotes from the Bible.