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Reinstatement of Alabama Principal in Prom Flap Ignites Boycott

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Students in an east-central Alabama county boycotted classes and set up alternative schools last week to protest the reinstatement of a high school principal alleged to have called a biracial student a "mistake.''

Hulond Humphries, the principal of Randolph County High School in Wedowee, Ala., for the past 26 years, was back on the job last week after the school board late last month voted 4 to 2 to reject a motion to consider his dismissal.

Mr. Humphries's return April 4 ended his three-week suspension, during which the superintendent of schools investigated allegations that Mr. Humphries said he would ban mixed-raced couples from the school prom and called the prom committee president, the daughter of a black woman and a white man, a "mistake.'' (See Education Week, March 23, 1994.)

Mr. Humphries has declined to talk to reporters. The principal's supporters said that his comments were misunderstood and that he was concerned about safety because of incidents at the school involving mixed-raced dating.

Dale McKay, the Randolph County superintendent, presented the results of his investigation to the school board in a closed meeting and recommended that it hold a hearing to formally present the allegations against Mr. Humphries and to discuss his dismissal.

"The school attorney and I felt like there was a lot of misunderstanding,'' Mr. McKay said. "A lot of different things were miscommunicated.''

Charlotte Clark-Frieson, a local leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the board's only black member, said the board's decision "simply ignited the community.''

Dozens of parents met after the board voted and agreed to the boycott and the alternative schools. "The parents did not want to send a bad message to their children,'' Ms. Clark-Frieson said. "They wanted to let their children know that education is important, and this was not a time to go out into the streets and frolic and get into mischief.''

'Freedom Schools'

Two churches are housing the schools, and parents, volunteers, and officials from civil-rights organizations are serving as teachers.

Officials of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, one of the civil-rights groups organizing the boycott, said the alternative schools are patterned after "freedom schools'' used in the civil-rights movement to protest school segregation and discrimination.

Much of the first days of classes was devoted to discussions of black history and theories of nonviolent confrontation, Ms. Clark-Frieson said.

The boycott organizers have met with state officials to discuss certifying the alternative schools, but they said a school board hearing on Mr. Humphries's dismissal could lead to the children's return to the public schools.

On the boycott's first day, 144 of the county's 441 middle and high school students were absent, including 109 black students, school officials said.

Leaders of the boycott dispute school officials who said absences dropped to 82 on the boycott's second day and to 62 on the third day. They said more than 150 students attended the alternative schools on the boycott's second day.

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