By Terrica Hendrix
BLEVINS – A large crowd of Ted Bonner supporters, concerned citizens and parents gathered around the Blevins School District Administration Building almost two hours prior to Monday’s school board meeting, but only 40 people were allowed inside of the building due to “building code.”
Bonner is the Blevins School Board member who dressed in “blackface” at a Halloween party last year. Several pictures of Bonner in blackface went viral and national media attention ensued. Bonner is pictured at the party wearing overall, a straw hat and holding a sign that read, “Blak (sic) Lives Matters.”
Superintendent Billy Lee unlocked the building door five minutes prior to the 7 p.m. meeting and strictly allowed only 40 people into the building, including two Hempstead County investigators, two members of the local media (Terrica Hendrix of The Nashville News-Leader, and John Miller of HopePrescott.com), and the remaining were Bonner supporters.
Many of the supporters donned white T-shirts that said, “I Stand With Ted Bonner.” As Bonner’s supporters arrived to the building, they were let in line by their fellow supporters in front of the other citizens and parents.
The large gathering of Bonner supporters was allegedly due to the Arkansas State Conference of the NAACP’s announcing protest set to be held also on Jan. 9. NAACP President Rizelle Aaron announced on both on his personal Facebook page and on a Blevins community Facebook page on Jan. 2, “This is a renewed invitation to the Black Panthers, Nation of Islam, Black Lives Matter, and all other likeminded organizations to return to Blevins, Arkansas with the Arkansas State Conference of the NAACP to encourage the resignation of school board member Ted “Blakface” Bonner. We require his resignation. Stand with us.”
Blevins Elementary Principal Lisa Doss wrote a letter to parents discussing the school’s first semester awards assembly and early dismissal on Jan. 9 due to expected protests. The letter stated that the district “is expecting protesters due to that evening’s school board meeting. School will be dismissed on Monday at 1:30 p.m. and will resume at its regular schedule Tues., Jan. 10th. Attendance will not be taken those two days,” the letter ended.
A Delight resident had also attempted to organize people on Facebook to attend the board meeting to form a barrier “so that the school board can get from their car to the meeting and back safely.” The plan was later scrapped after the resident had spoken to the Arkansas State Police and Hempstead County authorities.
On Sun., Jan. 8, Aaron responded to the school letter with a letter of his own – also posted on his Facebook page – to Superintendent Lee.
Aaron’s letter stated, “As you may be aware the letter states that students will be released early on Monday, January 9, 2017 due to scheduled protest and that attendance will not be taken on January 9 and 10, 2017. I’m not certain that the action taken by Principal Doss is line with the policies of the Arkansas Department of Education, but nonetheless it is not our intent to impede the instructional time of the students of the Blevins Public School District.”
“Although, it appears that school board member Ted “Blakface” [sic] Bonner is not concerned with the education of the children, we in fact are concerned about their education. For this reason we will not be holding protest on January 9 and 10, 2017 during school hours. Maybe this action will allow the students to attend the entire day of school and for the students to be given credit for attendance.”
“We have commitments from more than 300 individuals from five different organizations to be present in Blevins on January 9, 2017 to encourage Bonner’s resignation. I’ve communicated with those organizations and have made a collective decision to scale back our presence. I haven’t decided whether to personally attend the January 9th meeting at this point. We are taking other steps directly against Bonner to encourage his resignation.”
“As you know Bonner is a contract poultry grower and we have decided to take an economic approach to encourage Bonner’s resignation in an effort to reduce the impact that our efforts may have on the students of the Blevins Public School District. It is our belief that the reputable businesses that Bonner contracts as a grower and those that sponsor ‘Hillarosa’ will not want to be associated with a person that lacks racial sensitivity and openly displays racist behavior.”
(Editor’s Note: Hillarosa is an annual event held in Blevins at the Hillarosa ATV Park.)
“We are hoping that Bonner will make the right decision for his community by tendering his resignation immediately. Although, we will not be staging protests at this time we will not rule out unannounced protests in the future as a part of an escalation of actions if Bonner doesn’t resign. We are steadfast and committed to reaching our objective.”
There were no protests for Bonner’s resignation Monday night.
Lee confirmed that 137 students attended school Monday. He said that the district has more than 480 students and stated that the low student attendance was due to parents fearing for their children’s safety.
After the meeting, school board member Carl McGill addressed the audience to discuss the Bonner situation. He asked if Bonner would apologize in front of the entire Blevins community held at the school gym. Bonner immediately answered “yes” and McGill then asked if the community would be willing to listen to Bonner. McGill added that he believed it would be beneficial to the school if the NAACP coordinated an event with “the school board association and with our school” to have “some type of instruction to where we can learn a little bit about each other.”
Bonner said he’d “be glad to do that” and said that he’d let “Carl (McGill) set up a time to do that.”
Also during the meeting, Bonner received a pin from the Arkansas School Board Association for being an Outstanding Board Member while the other board members also received special recognition from the state organization.
In other business, the board approved:
* extending Lee’s contract by one year at his current salary; According to data from 2014-15, from Arkansas Online, Lee’s salary is $87,673. Board member Laura Clark voted against the extension;
two bids of $3,000 each for two buses to add to the district’s fleet.