To say that parents of students attending Douglas Anderson School of the Arts near Jacksonville, Florida, were in “dismay” after an email they got from the school’s principal is a sarcastic understatement. If the school had been a police station it would be on fire by now. Principal Melanie Hammer had the wonderful idea of scheduling separate but equal meetings “segregated” by skin color. The district sent her back to school for some history and law lessons in addition to “diversity training.” They’re still trying to calm the students down.
Parents demand answers
After parents in the Duval County School District called education officials on the carpet for two “segregated” school cultural meetings contrived for the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, educators quickly canceled the plans and started doing damage control.
The first thing they did was issue an official statement. “We recently became aware of this communication and this event, and we are equally dismayed. The Thursday event is being canceled, and we will be assisting the consultants and the school with a more appropriate plan going forward.”
The brouhaha began when Principal Melanie Hammer decided to take the advice of a liberal cultural sensitivity expert. Parents expect high school administrators to leave their office once in a while and simply roam the halls, listening to what the students are talking about.
Teachers in the classrooms hear all the chatter, but if they are passing it up the line it falls on deaf ears. Instead, the school relies on paid outsiders to come in and tell them what they would already know if they did their homework.
Hammer was all set to hold two separate meetings in the school cafeteria. The first was for “junior and senior students of color” to meet at 9 a.m. for a chance to vent all their prejudicial experiences. Then at 10:30 a.m. all the “White juniors and seniors” would be assembled for a lecture on racial sensitivity training addressing the issues raised in the first meeting.
When parents got the email “shortly after 7 p.m. Tuesday night” about the plan, they came unglued and melted down the school board’s phone line. Shortly after, a second email backed the first.
Allow students to be transparent
How can oppressed students of color speak freely with their White oppressors in the same room? They got the angry text messages from furious parents and were moving forward anyway.
“Many have reached out with questions regarding why two separate meetings have been scheduled. DA has partnered with a diversity consultant to help address concerns and ensure all student voices are heard. Our diversity consultant is hosting two meetings in hopes of creating a safe space to allow students to be transparent about their experiences at DA.”
By Wednesday morning Principal Hammer was issuing an apology on the building loudspeaker system. “From the bottom of my heart, I want to apologize. I look around this school, and I can see the hurt and pain.”
The consultant, who is President of All Things Diverse LLC, claims the idea got lost in translation and confused parents. “the point was not to segregate but to create a space for honest dialog.” Away from White people who would prevent that.
Alum Jade Collins weighed in noting, “I think that this sadly has taken away the possibility of trusting administration to create that safe space for students. I think that it’s really time for the administration to listen to those students to listen to the parents. But there shouldn’t almost never be a reason, especially at such a creative, honest and liberal school like Douglas Anderson, to even have to bring an outside voice for students to be able to speak freely.”
She remembers when principals roamed the halls.
After the scandal broke, it was revealed that students had written an email to school leaders which prompted the diversity training. They raised grievances including, “how the school silences Black and brown students, [and] a lack of inclusiveness, disproportionate punishment of Black and brown students.”
Parents are glad to hear that Principal Melanie Hammer “will receive training and professional development in building cross-cultural relationship with students, staff, families and community, as well as other race and culturally related topics.” Students say the whole issue got twisted. “it’s not so much a problem among students, but from staff.” One student, who did not wish to be identified, relates, “the problem is that our principal apologized but still isn’t doing anything about the racial discrimination in our school.”