MONTGOMERY, Ala. – There were some tense moments at the end of last week’s State School Board work session.
During her criticism of the Alabama Accountability Act, Board Member Ella Bell of Montgomery made the entire room uncomfortable by taking her argument down racial lines.
“I’m black and I grew up in Montgomery 70 years ago, so I’ve seen all the tricks,” Bell told the Board.
“You’re stealing the process and trying to destroy an entire race of people. Because most of you just don’t have a clue of what things are like when you never have a chance except some great white father taps you and says, ‘Come little colored child, I’ll send you to the Lamp. Or I’ll send you to the Forest Avenue,’ you understand.”
Bell was speaking of LAMP High School and Forrest Avenue Elementary School, two-high performing Montgomery magnet schools.
That was enough for fellow board member Mary Scott Hunter, who interjected to ask the Board Chairman “can we move on?”
Bell did not appreciate Hunter’s request.
“Girl, shut up talkin,” Bell said to Hunter. “Of all folk, you outta shut up!”
State Superintendent of Education Eric Mackey and Board Vice President Cynthia McCarty attempted to diffuse the situation by ending the work session and moving the board into its regular session.
Hunter said her intention of interrupting Bell was to keep her from saying something “she might regret.”
“I had a couple of thoughts as it was happening,” Hunter said. “Ms. Bell was critical of the Alabama Accountability Act. It is a controversial law, and I certainly understand the arguments for and against. I support it because it provides an important opportunity for some students.
“I intervened yesterday when it sounded to me like Ms. Bell was calling all those that voted for it as well as those of us sitting at the board table with her racists. Of course, that isn’t true, and I would not want to be complicit or appear to agree with that line of thinking by my silence. I care about Ella Bell, and I consider her a friend. I thought she was about to say something that she might regret.”
This is not the first time Bell has invited controversy with her public remarks about education. In August 2017 Bell had to apologize after suggesting children with special needs be removed from public schools to improve test scores.