Mixed emotions on the final days of Body Camp, Thaxton elementary schools

Nancy Ferris, P.E. teacher at Thaxton Elementary School, leads students in a dance following a talent show during the school's last day of operation Friday afternoon. (Photo by Max Oden/The News & Advance)

A lawsuit alleging racial discrimination by the Bedford County School Board in the decision to close Body Camp Elementary School has been moved to federal court.

An injunction hearing set for Friday was canceled, with a new hearing set for July 9 before Judge Norman K. Moon in U.S. District Court in Lynchburg, according to court documents.

The suit names all seven school board members and Superintendent Doug Schuch as defendants, although some of the school board members voted against the closure. All were included because they participated in redistricting, according to plaintiffs’ attorney Mel Williams.

It is not clear what prompted the move to federal court or how the change may affect the timeline of the case. Williams and defendants’ attorney Jim Guynn did not respond to requests for comment Friday afternoon.

Earlier this month, Williams said his clients wanted to move forward as quickly as possible.

“Obviously, you’d want to get a final determination before the school year would start,” he said at the time.

The July 9 federal court date is rescheduled from an original federal court date of July 16.

The plaintiffs, 28 adults on behalf of 33 black students and one student with a disability, seek a jury trial and an injunction preventing further closure of the school.

The division continued to remove furniture and other items from the building after the case was filed, leading the plaintiffs to seek a temporary interim injunction, which was first granted and then denied by the circuit court, according to court documents.

The complaint says the closure of Body Camp “disproportionately impacts racial minorities and discriminates against the disabled.”

In particular, the suit alleges the decision to close Body Camp rather than Moneta Elementary is based on the efficiency study that set in motion the closure of Body Camp and Thaxton Elementary schools, though the study recommended closing Moneta.

Body Camp, a historic black school in Bedford County and the first to be integrated there, is in a part of the county with a significant racial minority population, and 30 percent of its students are minorities, whereas only 12 percent of Moneta students are, according to the suit.

The disability discrimination allegation is included because Moneta is not handicapped-accessible.

“The Bedford County School Board and the individual members of the Board categorically deny that the decision in June of 2014 to close Body Camp Elementary School was motivated by racial bias,” a news release attributed to the school board stated when the suit was announced. “The School Board intends to vigorously defend itself against the lawsuit challenging the closure of Body Camp Elementary.”

Williams said members of the community are paying legal fees and have set up fundraising efforts to do so. Called “Save Body Camp Elementary School,” the YouCaring.com page, created by Penny Tuck Berger, says the effort has raised about $7,500.

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Contact Katrina Dix at (434) 385-5547 or kdix@newsadvance.com. On Twitter: @philosophykat.

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