Community leaders fear R.A. Hubbard students won’t be treated fairly at other schools

Smith

If R.A. Hubbard School is closed, its students will lose support systems, won’t be faculty priorities at their new schools and will not receive equal treatment, supporters of Hubbard said last week during a community meeting.

The Lawrence County NAACP chapter organized the meeting Thursday, Nov. 11. Meeting leaders encouraged community members to provide feedback to the county school board on the proposed closure of Hubbard, which is majority Black, and attend the Dec. 6 board meeting. A simple majority vote by the five-member board is required to reject or approve the proposal.

Jan Turnbore, president of the county’s NAACP chapter, said the effort to keep R.A. Hubbard open “is not a white-Black thing.”

“We want to keep our school in the valley,” he told the gathering.

The Lawrence County Board of Education is studying a proposal from Superintendent Jon Bret Smith to close the Class 1A school that has seen its enrollment drop 55% from 323 in the 2009-2010 school year to 147 this year. The school’s failing state report card from 2019, racial imbalance and cost to operate are other arguments for its closure, the superintendent said.

Under the proposal, students at the grades 7-12 R.A. Hubbard would move to Hatton High, East Lawrence Middle or East Lawrence High beginning in the fall.

If the school board approves the plan, it would be sent to a federal court with additional hearings set. The system operates under a federal desegregation order.

About 50 people attending the meeting at Courtland First Baptist Church heard about a dozen speakers detailing the school’s tradition of excellence, a 100% graduation rate in the past three years and a 90% attendance rate of the students.

R.A. Hubbard is located in North Courtland and also serves the Hillsboro, Red Bank, Courtland and Town Creek communities. Demographic numbers show 70.55% (103) of the students are Black.

“I’m worried about students losing that family connection they have at R.A. Hubbard,” said Denise Stovall, who spent 15 years as a teacher at the school. “They’re comfortable. (Going elsewhere) their self-esteem is going to be smothered because they’re not going to be involved in extracurricular activities because they don’t have transportation home. It’ll be a hardship on parents.”

She said the students from Hubbard will be treated as “the least of the least.”

“Fairness will become a double standard,” Stovall added. “There’ll be a lack of faculty support. Some teachers won’t be concerned. Our students will be oppressed spiritually and mentally.”

District 1 school board member Christine Garner questioned why the R.A. Hubbard students have to be sent to Hatton or East Lawrence schools to get a better education.

“Schools in the valley are always being picked on,” she said. “If I thought the kids would get a better education there, I’d be for it. … (The teachers) won’t try very hard to teach our kids. They’ll ignore us and assume we can’t grasp it. We have to have people who care about us. Our kids deserve a school in the district.”

North Courtland councilman Lee Langham warned the audience that the Hubbard students will be suppressed for excelling.

“When a child tries to advance with A’s and B’s (at the new school), A’s and B’s drop to C’s and they’ll be disqualified for the Beta Club,” he said. “They want our kids for sports, a winning football team, a winning basketball team. Our kids will not receive an equal opportunity because they will be overlooked.”

Bobby Diggs, first vice president of the Lawrence Chapter of NAACP, said the superintendent is “a little trickster” who continues “to change his narrative” on why the school should be closed. He said Smith misled the people attending the Nov. 1 school board meeting by failing to say an attorney presentation after the executive session would focus on the proposal to close Hubbard. After a 34-minute executive session, only two of about 50 attendees remained to see the presentation. Diggs and Turnbore were among the large group who left the meeting.

Smith said he understands the community’s pushback.

“During the next few weeks, a great deal will be said on both sides of the issue,” he said. “The job of the school system is do what’s best for the students. We truly wish this issue could be resolved with everybody getting what they want. That doesn’t appear to be possible. Our job is to the give the students the best education possible.”

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund is paying for two attorneys to represent the parents of students at R.A. Hubbard in the effort to keep the school open.

In 2019, the school was placed on the state’s failing list because the academic performance of students was in the bottom 6% of schools statewide in three of the past five years.

Smith said closing Hubbard would provide better educational opportunities for students and make the school system more financially sound.

The cost of keeping R.A. Hubbard open can’t be overlooked, he said.

R.A. Hubbard is the seventh-most expensive, non-specialized public school to operate in the state, he said.

The per-pupil expenditures at R.A. Hubbard increased from $15,881 in 2019-2020 to $18,030 this school year. In comparison, East Lawrence Middle School has the lowest cost in the county, going from $6,662 per student in 2019-2020 to $7,437 this year. The second-most expensive school to operate in the county is Mount Hope Elementary at $13,831 this year, $4,199 less per student than R.A. Hubbard.

R.A. Hubbard averages 24.5 students per grade level in grades 7 through 12.

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