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Confusion over accreditation loss stirs emotions in Oktibbeha County


Carmen K. Sisson



Call it a technicality. When the Oktibbeha County School District was taken over by the state earlier in the month, the district's accreditation was automatically withdrawn, but a meeting last week to finalize the procedure ended up causing more confusion than clarity.  


The Mississippi Commission on School Accreditation officially revoked the district's accreditation status during a special-called meeting Oct. 23, confirmed Patrice Guilfoyle, communications director for the Mississippi Department of Education.  


When word leaked out, it sparked a social media frenzy, with concerned parents and students expressing outrage and sorrow over the consequences -- namely the limitations placed upon the athletics program.  


But there was never any question that the district would lose its accreditation, Guilfoyle said Tuesday, seemingly puzzled by the sudden media storm.  


The Mississippi Public School Accountability Standards, revised in August, state in section 2.3: "Withdrawn (accreditation status) is assigned to a district that has previously been assigned a probation status and still does not comply with its Corrective Action Plan (CAP). Any school district placed in conservatorship will have its accreditation withdrawn." 


The 2010 standards state that a withdrawn status "may apply to any school district placed in conservatorship." 


The discrepancy between the old and new policy may have contributed to the confusion, Guilfoyle said, or perhaps people are only now beginning to understand the repercussions of a state takeover.  


While the district is under conservatorship, schools can participate in no more than 50 percent of their regular season activities, and they will not be eligible for playoffs.  


If the district's accreditation is not restored within two years, all interscholastic activities will be suspended.  


Lydia Stevenson, center for East Oktibbeha County High School's girls basketball team, discussed the issue Tuesday on Twitter, a social media platform.  


"The news I got today had me in tears," she wrote. "It's time I say goodbye to East Oktibbeha. Really hate to leave my school, but I gotta do what I gotta do. This was really our year to bring East Oktibbeha another state championship." 


Guilfoyle said students will still be able to graduate, and the loss of accreditation should not affect their college admissions.  


"It's up to the community," Guilfoyle said. "It should motivate the community to be concerned about the education their children need and that (the district) doesn't meet the accountability standards it's supposed to meet. The goal here is what's in the best interest, educationally, for the children." 


Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency in the district on Sept. 28, after it was found in violation of 29 required accreditation standards ranging from poor academic performance to safety issues.  


Both East and West Oktibbeha County high schools received failing grades on the state's accountability report cards, based upon 2010-2011 test scores. The district's graduation rate is 59 percent.


Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.



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