- Associated Press - Thursday, July 9, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Gov. Phil Bryant approved plans Thursday for the Mississippi Department of Education to take over the Tunica County school district, declaring an emergency which allows the state to appoint a conservator to run the 2,200-student system.

The move comes a day after the state Board of Education made the request to Bryant, finding that the 2,200-student district is violating 22 of 31 state accrediting standards, as well as state and federal laws. Officials were critical of Tunica County’s special education program, as well as Tunica County’s elected superintendent Stephen Chandler and discord among school board members.

“My first concern is for the students and parents of the Tunica County School District,” Bryant said in a statement. “We will continue to work with the Mississippi Board of Education to make sure a proper education is provided.”

Chandler resigned last week. The board had appointed interim superintendent Glen Newson, who had been principal of Tunica Middle School. The state Board of Education named Margie Pulley, most recently conservator in Oktibbeha County, to become conservator, displacing Newson. School board members were also removed by the action, as Pulley will report to the state Board of Education.

Under state law, Tunica County will change from an elected to appointed superintendent when it returns to local control, and outgoing board members are barred from serving again.

State officials said they plan to meet with Tunica County administrators, teachers and other employees early next week, followed by a meeting with parents and other community members.

Tunica County joins Aberdeen, Claiborne County and Leflore County under state control.

District leaders had appealed for more time to fix problems, but state leaders said Tunica County has done little over 18 months to correct the issues.

“The kids of that district were failed,” state school board Chairman John Kelly of Gulfport said after Wednesday’s vote requesting Bryant’s declaration. “Not only were they failed, they were failed in a huge way.”

The state criticized Chandler for never reporting an alleged rape at Rosa Fort High School in 2014. Last month, personal student data, including health and discipline records, were posted openly on the district’s website. And efforts to improve individualized education plans for special education students, after the state pointed out problems, only made them worse, state officials said.

Tunica County, with three elementary schools, a middle school and a high school, was under state conservatorship from 1997 to 2002. The district’s academic performance has been rated D or F in four of the past five years, with a high school graduation rate under 60 percent.

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Online: Accreditation report on Tunica County school district: https://bit.ly/1KPAYgh

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Follow Jeff Amy at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy


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