A Facebook post and an apparent personal plea from Indianola Parks and Recreation Director Carolyn O'Neal resulted in a group of parents and community members showing up for Tuesday night's Sunflower County Consolidated School District's Board of Trustees meeting at Robert L. Merritt Junior High.
O'Neal's social media page featured a post that had over 70 reactions, 40 comments and 160 shares.
The post read in part, "As of now, I will no longer accept registration fees for city league basketball due to the fact that my request to use school gyms have been denied by Superintendent Miskia Davis.”
O'Neal included the date, time and place of the meeting and urged people to attend.
Apparently, a request by O'Neal to use the facilities as in times past was initially denied, and after an attempt by Administrative Assistant Tiffany Griffin to inform her of the reasons why, O'Neal said she requested the response in writing. The sports activity director acknowledged that she had only communicated with Griffin and never with Davis directly.
In her address to the board, O'Neal first asked the members if they had a copy of the letter that was submitted to her from Davis and they indicated that they did not.
She handed each member a copy and distributed additional copies to the audience.
Reading from the document, O'Neal voiced her counter argument to what she said were Davis' concerns about the gyms use. First, it was that school is still in session and Davis doesn’t want the city league participants in the schools until 8 p.m.
O'Neal contended that her practices start at 4 p.m., and they are not disrupting anything by being in the buildings during those four hours.
Secondly, she said Davis' letter expressed concern that the high school teams are still engaged in regular season play. O'Neal said her activities have never affected Gentry's teams.
According to O'Neal, another of Davis' concerns centered on the number of children roaming the interior of the junior high school during each practice event. O'Neal said that although she has over 30 teams, each team only has about 10 players. “Each team have a time to practice and 10 minutes before the other team comes to practice, that team has to be out of the gym before the next team comes in, there’s never no more than 15 to 20 people in the gym at one time,” O’Neal said.
She acknowledged that Davis had offered the gym at Carver Elementary as a practice facility; however, O'Neal argued that it was impossible for all 30 teams to practice there. In addition, the Gentry High gym was offered as a place to play the actual games, except on Fridays.
O'Neal outlined the framework of her program to the members and emphasized that it is a self-sustained entity.
In addition to O’Neal, some parents also made statements to Davis and the board that implied that the district was negatively impacting the children.
Board President Edward Thomas asked one parent, “Based on what you said, why did you say what you said?” The woman explained that she had received notification that her children would not be able to participate in the city league sports, something they had been looking forward to, because they no longer had a place to practice.
Thomas praised Davis for her community engagement and emphasized that the district official would not do anything to negatively impact the children.
In her rebuttal to the statements made by O'Neal, Davis began. “The most disconcerting thing in my opinion, I’ve been questioned a lot as a teacher, principal, assistant principal, assistant superintendent, but one thing that has never been questioned is my commitment to children, so I take that personal that someone has questioned my commitment to children and if that is in question, then that means you don’t know Mrs. Davis. So, I challenge you to get to know me, and you'll know my commitment to children.”
Then, also addressing the items one-by-one, Davis said in reference to the number of days and hours in O'Neal's request, Monday-Thursday, 4-8 p.m., plus Saturdays, that if the children are still in the building at 8 p.m., it doesn't allow adequate time for the facility to be cleaned and prepared for the next school day.
Davis expressed that her concern about the exposure concerning Merritt Junior High was legitimate because the gym is attached to the school. Through written communication, Davis said she told O’Neal, “You can utilize Carver because Carver is not attached to a school,” she said.
With regard to the city league, Davis alluded to issues with supervision at Merritt and stated her unwillingness to chance any instances that could disrupt Merritt’s learning environment. She also granted use of the Gentry High gym on Saturdays if no other activities were planned. “We (she and O’Neal) haven’t had a chance to have a dialogue, even come to an agreement because she (O’Neal) has not spoken with me. I have not heard her voice until today, ” Davis stressed.
The superintendent contested the claim that she has denied access to all of the gyms; however she did provide the rationale that the gymnasiums belong primarily to the school first and foremost and that it was the district’s responsibility to be proactive in maintaining them.
She also asserted that the entire community should have access to the facilities and they should not be monopolized by one entity.
“If she had an issue, I would have preferred that Ms. O'Neal had come and spoken to me just like she took the time to come and speak with you all and to post on Facebook that I denied access to all gyms, which you see is not the case.”
In her explanation of the new fee for using the gyms, Davis explained that no fee is required for the practices; however, “The law says if you charge a fee, if you sell something you have to pay $300 per day, not per game, per day. That is the law, that’s not Mrs. Davis’ law, that is what the law says,” Davis stressed.
O’Neal implied that the fee would add a hardship to her program because they use their proceeds to cover her program’s overhead expenses.
Thomas asserted that they would see if any concessions could be made with regard to the cost and they would continue communication with her on it. “I don’t want anybody to leave here tonight thinking that a decision was made to hurt children,” Thomas said.
In a post meeting conversation, Thomas admitted that the school board has some options when it comes to setting the amount of the fee and he had shared that information with O’Neal after the session, so they can hopefully come to an amicable agreement.