A group of parents and others connected to Lanier Middle School want Houston ISD trustee and reality TV star Jolanda Jones to come to their school and apologize to all the kids there.
They held a midday press conference Monday outside the school and took turns expressing their displeasure with Jones, who they say went into a rant belittling the Lanier students who came to the February school board meeting to argue against changing the name of the school from Sidney Lanier, a Confederate soldier who went on to become a respected poet.
In the video, Jones is heard to say that she received emails that students who supported the name change were being bullied by other students to keep quiet. So the parents, aided by consultant Wayne Dolcefino, put in a public information request for all of Jones's emails having to do with Lanier.
"She claimed there were emails from students who were silenced, who were bullied because they wanted to change the name of that school," Dolcefino said in opening remarks.
Parent Adrienne Murry said after receiving the email transcripts, "We sat through 2,000 pages worth of documents, read them forwards and backwards several times and there are no emails of children being bullied by other children."
"Miss Jones had an obligation, if there was bullying, she had an obligation to come to the administration to tell them there was bullying, but she never did. That was our first clue that this was indeed a lie," Murry said.
So what started as a valid discussion over whether HISD or any district should continue to have schools named after members of the Confederacy has become a controversy over how a board member treated children in a public forum, whether she actually was telling the truth about receiving emails about bullying, and whether she should have to say sorry to a student body and its parents.
Asked if they were prepared for a Jones address at the school that might not be an apology, parent Chrysi Polydorus said they weren't afraid of what Jones would say. "That's not our concern. We're not afraid to stand up. Our children are watching us. They're watching our elected officials and our teachers."
"We are demanding that this elected official come to Lanier Middle school and address the student body and explain why she did that and apologize," said Polydorus.
The Houston Press put in a call to Jones and was contacted in turn (through emails and texting) by Monica Alexander of the PR Wizzzz Entertainment Co. out of Los Angeles, California, which describes itself as "a full-service boutique & special events management firm which specializes in publicity and image consulting for recording artists, professional athletes, film & television actors and lifestyle brands as well as celebrity procurement for red carpet events."
Alexander emailed us this statement from Jones:
Statement from Houston School Board Member Jolanda Jones Regarding The Vote To Change
Sidney Lanier Middle School
I stand with the majority of HISD Trustees who voted to re-name all schools in the district tied to the Confederate legacy. Regarding Sidney Lanier Middle School at no time during the discussion about the name changes did I ask students or faculty to side with the board regarding the proposed changes; nor did I ask anyone to skip school in protest. Any suggestion that I did is completely false.
However, this debate has once again exposed the ugly racial divide that exists in our country and our community. As an African American, I’m just as offended by the people these schools are named after as the Confederate flag itself. Moving forward, I would stand up and vote to change the names of these schools again and again because it is the moral and just thing to do.
Okay, didn't know about the skipping school allegations, but moving on, we texted back, explaining that what we were really asking about at this juncture was Jones's response to the call for her to apologize to the kids and that people were saying she had never received any emails about bullying.
After a few minutes, we got this texted response from Alexander:
"For now we are releasing the statement. Thank you."
Former (and revered) Lanier debate coach Jim Henley said he has met with Jones to make clear that no one supports the Confederacy at the school and that isn't what this is about. "When you're a reality show star, you're not held accountable for making up stuff, but when you're elected to office, you're held accountable for what you say in office. This meeting is about holding Jolanda Jones accountable for her words to Lanier students at the school board. "
Parent Arturo Perez, speaking first in Spanish and then English, said he was upset that "a person in a position of power decided to denigrate our students in front of a board meeting."
Here's the part of the HISD trustees meeting that got parents upset:
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And today's press conference:
We could be wrong, but we believe this is the first time a Houston ISD trustee has been represented by a Los Angeles talent agency to help sort out a controversy involving a Houston middle school. Just when you think there's nothing new under the sun, life just keeps on surprising.