SOS group finds cause to celebrate

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 7, 2006

WINDSOR – In festive fashion here Thursday night n including a brief re-make of a scene from “The Wizard of Oz” n Community Schools SOS celebrated a victory.

The group, meeting at the Council on Aging building in Windsor, learned that U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle has yet to sign a consent decree approving a desegregation plan submitted by the Bertie County Board of Education. That two-fold plan includes the closing of Askewville, Aulander and J.P. Law elementary schools.

Since late last year, the Community Schools SOS group has opposed the plan, so much to the point that they have filed a petition with the court as well as engaged in an active letter-writing campaign to U.S. Department of Justice officials.

At Thursday’s meeting, Dean Stephens, one of the SOS organizers, announced he had received correspondence from one of Judge Boyle’s representatives stating that a hearing will be held concerning the issue. That hearing is scheduled for 2 p.m. on March 14 at the Federal Courthouse in Elizabeth City.

“This is great news,” Stephens said. “This means Judge Boyle apparently wants to weigh in more information before he decides whether or not to sign the consent decree.”

Stephens implored the group to attend the hearing.

“We need a great turnout in Elizabeth City as we continue to get our point across that this issue is not about facilities discrimination,” he said. “We want to keep our small community schools open.”

Stephens added that banners and signs will not be allowed at the hearing. Rather, he said the group could demonstrate their unity by all wearing red.

“We have financial support that will allow us to purchase 30 red tee-shirts,” he said. “On the front we’ll have ‘SOS’ and on the back we’ll have ‘No Facility Discrimination’. Those not receiving one of these shirts are asked to dress in red. We want a sea of red in the courtroom.”

To date, the group has collected 3,170 names on the petition. Stephens has already filed a portion of those signatures, along with other documentation, with Judge Boyle’s office in Raleigh. He said he will make a subsequent filing on Thursday of next week.

The fact that Judge Boyle has yet to reach a final decision was also pleasing to John Davis, another of the SOS organizers.

“This is democracy at work,” Davis noted as he and others in the group raised glasses of non-alcoholic champagne to toast their success. “This is what happens when a community pulls together. We have gotten the attention of the federal court. We have been heard.”

Davis continued, “Everyone said we were wasting our time with this, but look at what we’ve done in a very short period of time. We have lived to fight another day as we continue to fight to keep our community schools open.”

The SOS group doesn’t plan to meet again until after the March 14 court hearing.