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Backers of black academy vow to appeal rejection

Proponents say they will open the school even if the application is declined, as they expect it will be.

Expecting that their charter school application will be voted down next week, backers of the proposed Marcus Garvey Academy went on the offensive Friday to try to make their idea a reality.

During a conference at the Uhuru House, supporters of the academy criticized the Pinellas school superintendent's recommendation that their charter school application be rejected. They vowed to appeal what they believe is an inevitable vote of rejection by the School Board on Tuesday. They promised to open the school for African-American children next year as a private school if need be.

In the meantime, academy supporters made a direct appeal to U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday this week, sending letters of support and a copy of their charter school application.

"We are going to appeal this all the way if we have to," said Amina Camara, director of the Marcus Garvey Academy.

The rejection of the charter school proposal appeared all but inevitable once the attorney for the Legal Defense Fund wrote that a school for black children would be a violation of the school district's desegregation order.

But the academy supporters cast the issue in broader terms Friday.

"This is not about the desegregation order; this is a political attack on the whole black community," said Chimurenga Waller, state president of the National People's Democratic Uhuru Movement.

The charter school application comes at a particularly sensitive time in the history of Pinellas County's desegregation order. The school district and the Legal Defense Fund are negotiating an end to court supervision. Neither side wants to jeopardize a smooth resolution to end more than 28 years of court-enforced busing.

The plan that still must be approved by the federal court calls for a transitional plan that would still seek to maintain some diversity in schools by ensuring that schools don't revert to all-black status.

The proposal for the charter school makes it clear that it would seek to attract African-American students. The lawyer representing the plaintiffs in the desegregation case, Legal Defense Fund lawyer Enrique Escarraz, said the proposal should be rejected because it would violate the court order.

Supporters of the academy characterized the court order as "a numbers game."

"That has nothing to do with African children achieving in school," Waller said.

As a part of the process of ending court supervision, Judge Merryday has scheduled a Feb. 28 "fairness hearing" in Tampa to allow public input into the decision. This week Camara wrote a letter to Merryday urging him to hold the hearing in St. Petersburg "so that the working poor people can attend. It will not be a fairness hearing if the masses cannot be a part of the hearing," she wrote. Merryday has not responded.

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