Tunica students walk out over firing of principal

TUNICA, Miss. — More than 200 students at Rosa Fort High School Tunica took to the streets Thursday  morning, upset over the recent firing of their principal, Derrick Dace.

Dace was principal at the school for four years until he was fired Wednesday,  a move the Tunica County Schools superintendent made to eliminate what he called “mediocrity” at the high school.

Thursday morning, students started their protest at the school’s gym on Highway 61, and then decided to march a mile and half to the school district’s office near downtown Tunica.

“We want Dace…we want Dace…we want Dace,” students chanted.

Hundreds of students from Rosa Fort High School stood outside the Tunica County School District office, braving the heat to voice their support for former Principal Dace.

Damien Jackson is a senior and school president of Rosa Fort High.

“We love our principal.  He does everything he can for us and we’ll do anything we can for him.  And I called him yesterday and I said, ‘Coach, we got to do something about it.’ He didn’t want us to do anything, but I told him we have to,” said Jackson.

Students also made it known they’re not happy with Tunica County Schools Superintendent Steven Chandler.

“Chandler has to go…Chandler has to go…Chandler has to go,” students chanted.

Chandler said his decision to fire Dace was based on continued poor academic performance at Rosa Fort High School.

“We have a high school that is currently in year three of ‘priority status,’ which means that it went three consecutive years with a graduation rate below 60 percent,” said Chandler.

Among the students Thursday morning were many adults arguing the fired principal actually made some progress toward improving the school’s rating.

Robert Hall, a retired Tunica County school teacher, said, “Last year we were a failing school, an F. This year we came up to a D and they fired the principal. So that’s just sort of the final straw. The kids are upset.”

Chandler said the slight improvement was nowhere near what he expected from educators at Rosa Fort.

“Going from an F to a D in a four-year period is not impressive. It is not helping children,” said Chandler.

Tunica police, Tunica County deputies and several officers with the Mississippi Highway Patrol stood by while students staged their protest, but made no attempt to stop them as long as they remained peaceful and stayed within the area designated for their protest.

Some students told us they would continue their protest until Dace is reinstated.

But Chandler said that won’t be happening on his watch.

“I make no bones about it, I’m here to tear down the ‘good ole boy’ system and build up a system of high expectations,” said Chandler.

The superintendent met with students and told them  he respects their right to peacefully protest, but reminded them that should they choose to stay out of school during their protest, they will be considered truant after 12 days of absence.

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