By Vickie Welborn
The Shreveport Times
COUSHATTA -- Nine black children attending Red River Elementary School in Louisiana were directed last week to the back of the school bus by a white driver who designated the front seats for white children.
The situation has outraged relatives of the black children who have filed a complaint with school officials.
Superintendent Kay Easley will meet with the family members Thursday.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also is considering filing a formal charge with the U.S. Department of Justice. NAACP District Vice President James Panell, of Shreveport, said he would apprise Justice attorneys of the situation this week. He's considering asking for an investigation into the bus incident and other aspects of the school system's operations, including pupil-teacher ratio as it relates to the numbers of white and black children, along with a breakdown of the numbers of black and white teachers employed.
"If the smoke is there, then there's probably fire somewhere else," Panell said in a phone interview from New Orleans. "At this point, it is extremely alarming. We fought that battle 50 years ago, and we won. Why is this happening again?"
Easley would not comment much on the allegations Wednesday, saying it is a personnel issue. She acknowledged that she has investigated the claim. And she confirmed that the bus driver did not run her route Wednesday, nor would she Thursday.
Asked if the driver would work for the rest of the year, Easley said, "I'm not going to answer the questions. " You're getting all that you're going to get from me. I'm sorry."
Red River Elementary School Principal Jamie Lawrence tried to rectify the seating situation when it was brought to her attention. But it was ultimately handled at the Central Office, Patricia Sessoms said.
Sessoms aunt, Iva Richmond, is the mother of two of the children, ages 14 and 15, and foster parent to three others, ages 5, 6 and 10. Janice Williams, who is the mother of the other four children, is Richmond's neighbor. All nine children catch the bus at a stop on Ashland Road.
Sessoms will join Richmond and Williams in their meeting with Easley today. Sessoms said they would ask for bus driver Delores Davis' immediate termination. Davis, who originates her bus route in Martin, has called Richmond to apologize, Sessoms said. A message left on Davis' answering machine late Wednesday afternoon was not immediately returned.
After Richmond and Williams filed complaints with the School Board, Transportation Supervisor Jerry Carlisle asked Davis to make seat assignments for her passengers, Sessoms said.
"But she still assigned the black children to the back of the bus," she added.
And the nine children had to share only two seats, meaning the older children had to hold the younger ones in their laps.
A new solution reached Monday by School Board officials has a black bus driver driving across town to pick up the nine black children.
"I think the whole school system needs to be reviewed in Red River Parish," Sessoms said.
Sessoms, who has two children at Red River Elementary, said she has no problems with her bus driver. "I have a wonderful bus driver," she added. Sessoms' request to have her young children sit near the front because of their ages was granted.
School Board member Gene Longino said Wednesday evening that he had not heard about the situation involving the nine children.
"I don't know anything about that. Until something formally comes to the School Board members through the superintendent, we don't know the details," Longino said.
School Board President Ricky Cannon was at work Wednesday evening and unavailable for comment. Board member J.B. McElwee also was not at home. Calls to the homes of Cleve Miller, Kassandria Wells White, Karen Womack and Jessie Webber were not answered.