Northwest Mississippi Community College is considering whether to continue to host high school graduations because of criticism stemming from controversy over cheering during a commencement ceremony. College officials spoke on the controversial action after sustaining some of the fallout.
School Superintendent Jay Foster filed misdemeanor criminal charges against three people, stating their cheering during the Mississippi Senatobia High School graduation ceremony on May 21 was “disturbing the peace.” Four people were asked to leave after they refused to obey instructions to keep quiet until the end of the ceremony. The fourth person, whose identity remains unknown to the school superintendent, was not charged, according to reports.
The college’s police chief assisted the superintendent in filling out the paperwork to file the charges and that has landed the college in the middle of the public firestorm over the incident, according to college officials. College spokeswoman Sarah Sapp told reporters the police chief was fulfilling his regular duties when he assisted with the paperwork. Even though the college hosts similar events for several high schools on a regular basis, the Mississippi college is considering whether it should host high school graduations in the future.
Meanwhile, the three charged and Foster are expected to be in Tate County Justice Court on Tuesday to address the charges in front of a judge. Foster has not stated if he will drop the charges, but plans to make a statement in open court. It is uncertain what those facing charges will do, but two of the cheering family members told reporters they felt taking out warrants against them was wrong.
Linda Miller and Henry Walker went to the graduation to cheer on their daughter, Lanarcia. An aunt, Ursula Miller, was also there and the three were part of the four-person group asked to leave after cheering. They left, but received warrants a week later, Ursula Miller said. The fact that this family is African-American has also stirred the racial pot in the Mississippi community of 8,000 people located south of Memphis, although Foster said the group escorted out of the ceremony includes two African-Americans and two white attendees.
“It’s crazy,” Walker said. “The fact that I might have to bond out of jail, pay court costs or a $500 fine for expressing my love, it’s ridiculous man. It’s ridiculous.”
Foster said he discussed the situation with the district’s attorney, school board members and school administrators, so he did not act on his own in issuing the warrants. Many people showed up at the school board meeting after the story became a national topic of conversation and most of those told the board the superintendent did the right thing, according to Foster. Senatobia School District attorney Jim Keith said most of those in the Mississippi town approve of the superintendent’s actions. However, those calling reporters to complain about the decision to issue warrants were African-American.
The superintendent said he is not trying to put people in jail. He just wants the school’s commencement ceremony to be more dignified than it has been in the past. Foster said ongoing celebrations throughout the ceremony ruins it for other graduates because their families can hear the names called.
The issue is raising the ire of the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The group insists that Foster is violating the First Amendment rights of those attending the graduation by forcing them to remain quiet. ACLU officials contend the cheering falls under freedom of speech and does not constitute disturbing the peace. The issue will be left up to a judge Tuesday while the Mississippi college is considering whether to host high school graduations. There is no timetable for the college to make a decision.
By Melody Dareing
Christian Science Monitor: Defending dignity? Mississippi to press charges for cheering at graduation
Al.com: Mississippi family charged with cheering at graduation: Will charges be dropped?
Fox News: Mississippi superintendent won’t say if he’ll drop graduation cheering charges
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