Flagler County district leaders apologize for elementary school assembly singling out Black students

Leaders offer ‘no excuse’; Principal, teacher on administrative leave as investigation continues

FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla. – Flagler County’s interim superintendent and school board chair apologized Thursday for an assembly about test scores last week at Bunnell Elementary School that singled out Black students.

School Board Chair Cheryl Massaro and Interim Superintendent LaShakia Moore both offered “no excuses” for what happened at the school, which furious parents said included children being told that if they didn’t perform well in school and go to college they could end up in jail, shot or killed.

“You segregated them, and then you beat them down by telling them, ‘If your scores are not up to par, you’re going to end up in jail, shot dead, or on the side of the road,’” said Jacinda Arrington, whose child was at the assembly.

“These are people that we trust with our children seven to eight hours a day, and you bullied them,” Arrington said.

RELATED: Elementary school assembly singling out low-scoring Black students in Bunnell sparks investigation

“The district does not in any way support the activity that took place at Bunnell Elementary School,” Massaro said. “It should not have happened. If we had known about it, it wouldn’t have happened.”

During a news conference Thursday addressing the issue, Moore said Bunnell Elementary Principal Donelle Evensen and a teacher who was involved in the assembly are on administrative leave while the district investigates.

“My appeal is to our families and to this community that we continue to work together in order to help each other and improve the academic performance of all of our students here in Flagler County,” Moore said. “We make no excuses for what happened. We offer our apology, and we offer actionable actions.”

Moore said she has already met with some of the students involved in the assembly and their parents and plans to meet with more.

The parents, it turns out, didn’t know about the assembly until their 4th- and 5th-grade students started talking about it after the fact.

“A horrible, horrific mistake was made. This district will do all that it can to get us back on track to continue moving everyone forward,” Massaro said.

The assembly

The district provided News4JAX with a PowerPoint presentation used in the assembly, which includes a slide titled, “The Problem.” That slide lists the following statements:

  • “AA have underperform (sic) on standardized assessment for the last past 3 years.”
  • “We only have 32% of our students who are at a Level 3 or higher for ELA/Math.”
  • “We are supposed to have at least 41%.”

News4JAX’s sister station WKMG reached out to district officials to ask what “AA” stands for, though no explanation has yet been provided. (Click here to view the full PowerPoint presentation used in the assembly at the bottom of WKMG’s story.)

In a slide titled “The Solution,” the PowerPoint instructs students to commit to improving scores. The PowerPoint also includes a slide describing a “F.A.S.T. Challenge,” in which students would be pitted against each other in individual matchups, with the student with the higher score winning a fast food meal.

“It’s a joke,” said Alexis Smith, whose child was at the assembly.

Smith and Arrington said the children need to be considered as individuals.

“Moving forward, if they feel like they want to coach them, or prepare them for a state test, they need to do it with everyone,” Smith said. “And instead of leading, allow the children to lead and explain to them what problems they’re having.”

In a previous statement, Moore said, “In speaking with Mrs. Evensen, it is clear there was no malice intended in planning this student outreach. However, sometimes, when you try to think ‘outside the box,’ you forget why the box is there.”

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