EXCLUSIVE: Newly-released document spells out JPS’ defense of Forest Hill High School band after sanctions

District fully acknowledges some members portrayed law enforcement officers held at gunpoint

EXCLUSIVE: Newly-released document spells out JPS’ defense of Forest Hill High School band after sanctions

JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - Jackson Public Schools' Oct. 14 appeal to the Mississippi High School Activities Association points the blame squarely at Forest Hill High School’s band director, not the students themselves, in an attempt to reverse the organization’s decision against the band program as a whole.

The two-page appeal, obtained by 3 On Your Side through a public records request, cites four arguments for appealing the MHSAA’s decision to lob sanctions and a suspension against the entire band program for that Brookhaven performance last month involving students pointing fake guns at other students portraying law enforcement.

The district also fully acknowledged -- twice -- that some students did portray law enforcement officers, even though they weren’t dressed in police uniforms.

“While the district agrees that the band director’s decision to perform a skit involving pointing toy weapons at law enforcement officers was inappropriate, the district disagrees with the penalty as it relates to students because the penalty unnecessarily harshly punishes the band students who were simply following the instructions and directions of their band director," district counsel JoAnne Nelson Shepherd stated in the appeal.

Shepherd said the skit in question -- loosely based on the movie John Q -- was not intended to offend or hurt.

“In the skit, the students who posed as doctors and nurses held the guns on the law enforcement officers only to prevent them from harming John, who was trying to obtain a heart for his child,” the appeal said.

The district’s investigation revealed that band members arrived to the game late, through no fault of their own, and didn’t hear the announcement relating to the deaths of two Brookhaven police officers.

Shepherd also took the MHSAA to task for what the district claims is inconsistent and unfair punishment.

“It is the District’s understanding that when MHSAA punishes coaches, the entire team does not have to pay for the actions of the coach,” Shepherd wrote. “While teams are placed on probation, they are allowed to continue games.”

Some had claimed that bringing toy guns onto a school campus was a violation of state law.

JPS' appeal stated that Miss. Code 97-37-17 (7)a allows weapons on educational property as long as they’re incorporated into a school-approved program “under supervision of an adult whose supervision has been approved by the district.”

“The District does not dispute that the use of the toy weapons constituted incredibly poor judgment on behalf of the band director, for which the District has taken appropriate action against him,” the appeal states.

JPS suspended the band director following the performance.

The appeal did not change the MHSAA’s decision at all, though the organization did clarify that the band could play in the stands at football games.

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