The chair of the York school board said Friday that she and board members have “sympathy” and “respect” for the father of WNBA star Ivory Latta, but they stand by the district policy forbidding funeral’s in a school gymnasium.
The family of Charles Latta, 67, who died after a car crash Tuesday, had requested to hold his funeral in the “Cougar Dome” gym in York.. Charles was a longtime school and community volunteer in sports and other civic activities.
The board’s policy upset many in the Latta family and in York. School alumni and Latta family supporters spoke on Facebook and other social media against the policy.
Board chair Betty Johnson and board member Diane Howell told The Herald Friday they knew Charles Latta and his service record, but school policy forbids a funeral service at a school gym for anyone who’s not a current student or employee.
Johnson said she has “great sympathy and great respect” for the service Charles Latta gave the children of the York school district and the impact of the Latta family on the community.
“I worked with Charles at Duke Energy, I knew myself his contributions to the community and school district, and the contributions of his family,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the community, and she as a person and a board member, have been “very touched” by the overwhelming community support to hold the funeral at the school gym. She said her role is to enforce guidelines the same for everyone.
“As a board member and its chair, I took an oath to operate by policy and procedure of the district,” Johnson said. “The board is following the policy as outlined.”
Howell was principal at York Comprehensive High School when Ivory Latta became South Carolina’s all-time leading scorer and arguably the school district’s most famous alum. Ivory went on to play at the University of North Carolina and in the WNBA. She has held camps and other events in York and has been honored repeatedly by the community for her service.
Howell also knew Charles Latta personally.
“As an individual I feel for the family and my heart goes out to them,” Howell said. “Charles and his entire family always were, and still are, very supportive of the schools and this community in York.”
Howell said her board responsibility, like that of Johnson, is to follow district policy.
“I took an oath to support the policies of the school district,” Howell said.
Iris Latta-McConneyhead, one of Charles Latta’s daughters who is dean of students at a Charlotte school, said the York school policy was “frustrating and deeply disappointing.”
But her father’s legacy demands the family move forward.
‘We were hurt by the school district (policy) because of all my father did for the students here and the community here, but now we have to move ahead and honor him, ” Iris Latta-McConneyhead said.
York city, county and religious leaders, including York Mayor Eddie Lee, York County Council member Allison Love, and York City Councilman and NAACP president Steve Love, lobbied the school board to allow the funeral based on Charles Latta’s service and the family’s commitment to community.
“I have had people from as far away as New York and Florida calling me to say that the school district has made a terrible mistake here - and I agree,” Lee said. “Some rules are made to be broken. This is one of them.”
The school board does have the authority to review any policy, said Tim Cooper, spokesman for the school district. The policy forbidding funerals for anyone other than current students or employees was enacted in 2010.
Johnson said the short time frame Between Charles Latta’s death and his Aug. 4 funeral, coupled with several board members being out of town this week, precluded any emergency action.
“There was not enough time to do anything before Saturday,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the most appropriate way for the policy over use of facilities for funerals to be reviewed is for the public to bring their concerns to the board for a public meeting.
By Friday, the Latta family had opted to proceed with the funeral at noon Saturday at West End Baptist Church in Rock Hill.
“Saturday we will honor my father at a wonderful church even if we hoped that it would have been at the gym where he showed love and respect and care to children for decades,” Ivory Latta said. “We move forward. He would have wanted it that way.”