HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Community groups held a rally Tuesday to speak in support of education in Huntsville. They received additional backing from a powerful group, too - the Chamber of Commerce of Huntsville/Madison County.
Tuesday's rally at the Annie Merts Center followed several very public disagreements between the Huntsville Board of Education, Huntsville City Councilman Richard Showers and Madison County Commissioner Bob Harrison.
Community leaders spoke on behalf of Huntsville City Schools about the progress that’s been made over the past three years. Protesters also attended, holding signs saying their concerns have been ignored.
Tuesday afternoon, the Chamber of Commerce said it backs the local supporters, and several Chamber staff members and board members attended the rally.
The Chamber's Board of Directors also approved a position statement saying it supports the Huntsville City School system's endeavors to seek unitary status.
Part of the statement reads:
“By attaining unitary status, the (school) System seeks to demonstrate to the local community, businesses, potential residents and the military services that it no longer operates two separate systems - one for African-American students and one for White students - and that it does not discriminate against any students based on their race.
“Unitary status will give the system the autonomy and agility to make education decisions locally in this age of accelerating change. This ensures that our school board is accountable to the citizens of Huntsville. Operating Huntsville as a unitary system will ensure our city is globally competitive and our economy will provide high wage jobs for our graduates and a strong tax base to support quality education for all students.”
Read the Chamber's full position statement.
At the school board meeting later in the evening, board members called for unity in the community, saying disagreement doesn't necessarily mean they aren't listening.
Board members Jennie Robinson and Laurie McCaulley specifically addressed threats made against the superintendent and school board.
"Bullying and browbeating may have been the way we did business years ago, but it's not the way business is done now," said Robinson. "If we really want to meet the needs of our children in this school system we will have to work together."
But at least one woman found the calls for unity disingenuous.
"The public grandstanding, rallying of the hoards, and mass email notifications sent by a Huntsville City school employee to other employees and other organizations are a prime example of the manipulation and the extremes that this board will go through to create a facade to hide the actual problems of the school board," said community member Michelle Watkins.
The board did respond to questions about the legal battle between the system and the DOJ.