JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A plan to hold two segregated school cultural meetings has been canceled at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, the Duval County School District told News4Jax.
“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 district wrote in a statement.
The event, announced by Principal Melanie Hammer, would have arranged for students of color and white students to attend separate meetings in the school cafeteria to “discuss cultural issues that have arisen at the high school.”
Hammer issued an apology to students over the school’s loudspeaker on Wednesday.
“From the bottom of my heart, I want to apologize. I look around this school, and I can see the hurt and pain. I truly dont know what to say except I care deeply about each and every one of you, and the experience you have at DA. And you deserve to have the best possible high school experience. I remain 100% dedicated to working together with you, to improve the racial and cultural experience of our school. We are fractured. But we are also family. The work is hard, and I have made mistakes, but I love each and every one of you. I do hope you will forgive me. And we will continue strengthening our families together. Thank you all for listening,” Hammer said.
Parents and former students of Douglas Anderson said they were outraged after hearing about plans for the meeting.
Junior and senior students of color were to meet at 9 a.m. and white juniors and seniors were scheduled to meet at 10:30 a.m., according to the email sent to parents. The first email was sent shortly after 7 p.m. Tuesday night. After the email went out, parents and students were outraged.
Shortly after, a second email, doubling down on the plan was sent to parents.
“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,” the email read.
The President of All Things Diverse LLC said the email sent to parents was lost in translation and that the point was not to segregate but to create a space for honest dialogue.
Jade Collins is an alumnus of the school and has spoken up about racism there.
“I think that this sadly has taken away the possibility of trusting administration to create that safe space for students,” said Douglas Anderson alumna Jade Collins. “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.”
The diversity issue at DA has been ongoing.
News4Jax received an email reportedly sent to school leaders two weeks ago by a group of students. It is unclear if the email is what prompted the series of meetings.
The email acknowledged the school had hired a more diverse staff and supported Black student leaders, then they listed grievances including, how the school silences Black and brown students, a lack of inclusiveness, disproportionate punishment of Black and brown students and more.
For perspective, Douglas Anderson School of the Arts has more than 1,100 students. 60% are white, 21% are Black and almost 10% are hispanic. 74% of the student population is female.