RIVIERA BEACH — Tracey Graham never thought she’d have to take on the School District of Palm Beach County. But, in order to help her daughter and eight other African-American students regain their places in their marching band, that’s exactly what she had to do.
Six of the students attend Inlet Grove Community School, 600 W. 28th St., Riviera Beach, a charter school. The other three attend Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts, 501 S. Sapodilla Ave., West Palm Beach, a magnet school.
Because those schools do not offer a band program, the students had been taking part in band activities at Suncoast High School, 1717 Avenue S, Riviera Beach, whose band members are mostly white students.
When the nine showed up on Oct. 17 for their afternoon band practice session, they were abruptly told by the band director, Ernest Brown, that they were no longer eligible and that they had been taken off the roster.
School district policy states that charter school students can take part in extracurricular activities at their home school if their “choice” school does not offer those activities. The policy does not address magnet schools.
Some of the nine students had taken part in band for three years at Suncoast High with no problems and their sudden dismissal from the program came as a surprise.
Vickie Middlebrooks, a spokeswoman for the School District of Palm Beach County, said Suncoast High had learned that the students were ineligible and had acted upon it.
Graham said she found it odd that no extracurricular activities were targeted other than band. She and other parents, along with the students and some other people in the community, staged a picketing exercise Nov. 1 at Suncoast High.
The students were reinstated into the band following a closed-door meeting of the district’s Student Services Committee comprising representatives of various district departments. On the agenda was the policy regarding home and charter school students and their extracurricular activities and its implementation regarding the nine students, according to Middle-
The meeting took place on Friday, the day of Suncoast High’s homecoming game. The reinstated students were able to take part in the show.
In a statement, the school district said the students will be allowed to stay in the Suncoast High band for the remainder of the year while the policy is reviewed for clarity for the 2013-14 school year.
Graham, 47, a realtor and certified paralegal, believes her daughter and the other students were caught up in a dispute involving Brown, the 51-year-old band director, who has been indicted on charges of fraud and official misconduct stemming from an incident in which he took band students to Europe and reportedly took some family members as part of the delegation that visited London and Paris.
The case is still pending in the courts.
Although Brown has been indicted, the question of whether he should be fired has not yet come before the school board, so he is still performing his duties as band director, Middlebrooks said.
Graham believes school officials are trying to get rid of Brown and the students are being used as pawns to achieve that end.
“They have a greater goal in mind and we believe it’s to get rid of the band director,” Graham said. “I don’t think it’s fair to bring our students in the midst of this. It’s just not right. (It) makes no logical sense.”
Graham believes she stunned the school board with her perseverance in fighting for the students’ reinstatement.
“They had no intention of putting them back in the band,” she said, adding, “It’s not over. This never should have happened and we have to see to it that it never happens again.”
Terrion Nelson, 45, agreed. “There is a lot of political things going at that school and it is unfair to bring the students into the situation,” said Nelson, whose son, Reneir, 15, attends Inlet Grove.
Graham’s daughter Ama-ris, 16, who attends Alexander W. Dreyfoos, said she’s grateful for her mother’s intervention.
“We were doing something positive. We had to audition for this part. Nothing was given to us. And they just took us out. It was so abrupt. We weren’t doing anything wrong,” Amaris said. “I’m just grateful to my mother for doing all of this for me. But she fought for all of us. She even fought for the kids it would affect later.”
Daphne Taylor may be reached at: journeynews2gmail.com