- Associated Press - Friday, October 2, 2015

FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) - A circuit court judge has ruled that the Fort Smith School Board did not violate the state’s open meetings law when it decided to consider the elimination of Southside High School’s “Dixie” fight song and mascot.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (http://bit.ly/1QPk80o ) reports that the lawsuit accused the board of not giving prior notice of a June 23 special committee of the whole meeting that revisited the school song and mascot.

The district had sent out notice on June 22 that the board would hold a special meeting for the annual evaluation of the superintendent. It did not mention a committee of the whole meeting. Members at the meeting voted to place the mascot issue on the agenda of the July 27 regular meeting.

In his Thursday ruling, Judge James Cox said the board is required by the act to notify the media when a special board meeting is called, but it is not required to publish an agenda.

Board President Deanie Mehl testified Thursday that she mentioned to the other members before the June 22 regular meeting that the board should reconsider Southside’s mascot after a mass shooting a week earlier in Charleston, S.C. Mehl said the Confederate symbolism of the high school’s mascot and fight song has been opposed by a majority of the people in the community for the 10 years she’s been on the board.

Fort Smith attorney Joey McCutchen said after the hearing that he plans to appeal Cox’s ruling, saying the School Board’s committee of the whole meeting on June 23 was a public meeting, and that meeting as a committee of the whole circumvented the requirements of the state Freedom of Information Act.

The School Board voted unanimously at the July 27 meeting to eliminate the school’s fight song and to phase out the Rebel mascot.

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

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