Plan for private school to use public property hits snag
Feb. 18, 2017
RIENZI, Miss. (AP) — Plans to let a Christian school use a closed Alcorn County public school are in legal trouble and may be dead.
When the Alcorn County school district transferred the former Rienzi Elementary School to the town of Rienzi, it said the town couldn't use the property for a school. But Mayor Walter Williams wants to lease the facility to Pathway Christian Academy, a religious school now in Corinth.
Alcorn County Superintendent Larry Mitchell told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal Friday that the district wants the property back.
Williams said he felt that a Christian academy would be similar to a church and would not apply to the language in the agreement. Moreover, he said a Christian academy would not receive state or federal funds and that the parents would pay to send their children there.
Mitchell responded, saying, "Does it teach math? Does it teach English, science, history? That makes it a school. He (Williams) can call it whatever he wants to; call it an academy or whatever. But we told them plainly that if they use it for a school it will revert back to us."
Alcorn County closed elementary schools in Rienzi and Glen last year, and some people in Rienzi have been looking for another school for the town.
Pathway Christian Academy Administrator Myra Rencher said the Alcorn district fears losing students and funding.
Rencher said Mitchell "has never recognized us as a school" but is doing so now.
"It's all over money," Rencher said. "It's all over losing funding and things like that for the students that are coming to us because we offer them a good Christian education."
But Mitchell said, "I've never recognized them as a school because I've never recognized them as anything period, didn't even know who they were until this came up for Rienzi."
Rencher said the school now plans to open at Rienzi Baptist Church in April.
Earlier this month, church-state controversy swirled in Rienzi after the town removed a Christian flag from a municipal display. The Freedom From Religion Foundation threatened to sue, and a rally protesting the threat attracted wide attention. Williams announced the Christian school at the rally.
"It looks like every time something comes that has something to do with Rienzi and especially Christianity, we get a rebuttal on it," Williams said.
Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, http://djournal.com