ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — Some community leaders in north St. Louis County are condemning the commissioner for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) over what they call discriminatory practices after two school board members were replaced.
Two new Riverview Gardens School District board members were sworn in on Tuesday night. They were appointed by the state, which said the members they are replacing had terms that were set to expire in June.
But local leaders said they believe this is an example of discrimination in their schools by replacing qualified members with underqualified ones.
At a Riverview Garden town hall meeting, local black leaders voiced their concern after two members (Dr. Miranda Avant-Elliott and Dr. Lynn Beckwith Jr.) were told they would no longer serve on the special administrative board.
The state commissioner said Beckwith wanted to transition, but Avant-Elliott said she was blindsided.
“To just be appointed in April for some responsibilities that will end abruptly was very concerning because there was no communication prior to that as far as being told that I was being replaced,” said Avant-Elliott, former board member and secretary. “The board statute talks about jointly having government background, educational qualifications. And me being an educator for over 17 years and a four-year elected official in Bellefontaine, I had all the qualifications.”
Local leaders want to know what fueled this decision. They feel black communities are getting the short end of the stick with underqualified employees. Opponents said this is not the first time DESE has made bad decisions in their neighborhoods.
They claim back in 2021, the state of Missouri appointed an unqualified superintendent to the Normandy School District. After months of community outrage, the superintendent resigned.
They now urge DESE to reverse their decision this time around.
“How do you not want two highly-qualified individuals to serve on a board of education when you say that the board failing, that the system is failing, and you have two individuals that have the credentials to help make it better? That doesn’t make sense to me,” said Rep. Marlene Terry.
Since 2010, the state has been in charge of the school board. Appointing members to serve on the special board. By April 2024, the board will transition back to a fully seven-member, locally elected board.
The commissioner said this brings them one step closer.
“What we’ll see moving, we’ve appointed three returning, and the two members that were just added are highly qualified, recommended by the community,” said Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven. “And I really look forward to seeing how they serve.”
Community leaders have also contacted Gov. Mike Parson asking to have this decision reversed, but the commissioner said that will not happen.