Child protective services takes students from New Jerusalem Mission Academy
Eight boys from all over Louisiana were escorted into a child protection services van Thursday after spending the past three weeks with the crumbling New Jerusalem Mission Academy.
“Hold your heads up! You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of,” said the Rev. Joe Buckner as the boys filed out of the house behind Buckner’s janitorial service where they have been staying for the past four days. Buckner is the academy’s vice president and the NAACP’s regional representative.
They were the last boys left after the academy for at-risk youth was evicted from a Marksville building two weeks ago for owing about $13,000 in rent. Most of the 76 students went home after the eviction, but the remaining 15 have been roaming through hotels for the past two weeks with academy staff before settling in Buckner’s house off Rapides Avenue in Alexandria.
The female students are staying at an undisclosed residence in Cottonport, said academy Superintendent Brian Mott. He would not specify how many girls are left or where the house is located, “for their own good because they are juveniles.” The girls have not been taken into the custody of social services, and all their parents know what is going on, Buckner said.
The school is not state-approved and no classes have been held this week.
The school had only been open four days before the eviction. Mott hoped to fund the non-public boarding school with donations and he would not specify how much money the school has now.
The Office of Community Services took the boys from the Rapides Avenue residence because “OCS claimed they were not being housed, fed or supervised properly,” said Darrell Hickman, the academy’s lawyer.
The Town Talk was unable to confirm that information with the OCS. Hickman said OCS must prove the allegations at a hearing scheduled for Thursday.
Buckner owns the janitorial service and the fully furnished residential house connected to the back where the boys were staying. A few boys told The Town Talk they were eating well at the deli Buckner owns next door.
In the mean time, angry parents want the money back that they paid for uniforms that never were furished to the students. The school’s teachers want to resign, but they don’t know where to send resignation letters or how to contact Mott.
The academy’s janitor, Leviege Lacour, said he can’t pay his child support this month and Mott’s staff keeps telling him to hold out a little longer until Mott can secure some state school funds.
Mott has not turned in any applications for state approval and any charter school application will not likely gain approval until April at the earliest, reports Patricia McFarland with the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Mott said he is applying to BESE to become a new kind of school and was told he has until Oct. 15 to turn in the school’s proposal for approval and secure state funds. The Town Talk could not confirm that Tuesday.
One former teacher said Mott is sort of “holding the students hostage” in a cult-ish manner. The teacher said he couldn’t provide his name until his resignation from the school is official.
Mott is telling the students he will sue Bunkie and Marskville law enforcement, claiming the school’s eviction and police harassment is racial discrimination against the mostly black school, the teacher reported. Mott has told students and parents that if they stick with him, they will all receive as much as $40,000 in the settlement, the teacher said.
“It’s like a cult,” the teacher said. “He’s making false promises to these kids.”
When asked if he is telling the students that, Mott said “no comment.” He also would not confirm or deny that he is planning a racial discrimination lawsuit.
He said he plans to reopen the school as soon as possible.
One teacher said he still supports the concept of a second-chance school for at-risk youth, but he suspects a scam.
“Everybody in Marskville thought this was a good thing,” the teacher said. “These kids thought they were coming for a new beginning … but if (Mott) was really working for the best interest of the children, he would have never opened those doors knowing he didn’t have the money.”