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Deputies patrol school grounds as rumors fly

By Staff
COMFORT n West Lauderdale School resource officer Bill Brunelle comforted students Friday as Deputy Jim Bristow and his K-9 officer, Chris, patrolled the school for safety. The deputies were accompanied by students Andrea Aviles and Erika Harskins. Photo by Marianne Todd/The Meridian Star
By Marianne Todd/The Meridian Star
March 10, 2001
Lauderdale County sheriff's deputies were dispatched to West Lauderdale School Thursday and Friday to investigate rumors of racial tension over the state flag issue and to encourage a peaceful day before spring break.
More than 100 students were absent from school Friday, some of whom because they were exempt from exams and others because they were kept home by parents due to rumors of impending violence, said school Principal Mike Ethridge.
Lauderdale County Maj. Ward Calhoun said rumors began to circulate after a confrontation between two students about a bumper sticker that reportedly poked fun at the flag issue. Ethridge said he never saw the bumper sticker and did not know what it contained, but he asked the student to remove it, and the student complied.
Early Thursday morning, a parade of five or six cars passed the school, each displaying a Rebel flag, Ethridge said. Deputies on Thursday afternoon were dispatched to the school and to a nearby convenience store to investigate reports of fighting over the state flag. No students were found upon their arrival, he said. Rumors continued to circulate through the community that guns would be brought to school on Friday, Calhoun said.
Calhoun said his office received numerous calls from concerned parents on Thursday and Friday. Ethridge said his phone rang with a concerned parent "about every two minutes" on Friday.
As a precautionary measure, several deputies were dispatched to work the roads surrounding the school and additional deputies were brought in to patrol the school campus on Friday.
Sheriff Billy Sollie and Lauderdale County Superintendent of Schools David Little were also on campus early Friday.
School officials said they expect everything to be back to normal by the time school resumes on March 19.
Marianne Todd is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail her at mtodd@themeridianstar.com.

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