JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The principal of Douglas Anderson School of the Arts returned to the campus Monday after completing diversity training, according to the school district.
Principal Melanie Hammer received “training and professional development in building cross-cultural relationship with students, staff, families and community, as well as other race and culturally related topics.”
“Words really cannot express how much I missed being with my DA family every day. However, it has been rewarding to have uninterrupted time for learning, strategic planning, and professional growth as it relates to the culture and climate of our school,” Hammer wrote in an email to students and parents after a month of being away.
Hammer said she worked with Dr. Rudy Jamison and Dr. Chris Janson from the University of North Florida Center for Urban Education and Policy during her time away.
“I am excited for the work we will be bringing to address our school culture and climate, and I look forward to introducing them to you in future conversations, which will occur soon,” Hammer added. “Once we work through some initial logistics planning with our administration team, I’ll be writing you again about opportunities to continue this important dialog with students, staff, and families.”
Her return comes after an uproar from parents surrounding diversity training for students at the school.
The school sent parents an email announcing diversity meetings for the students to “discuss cultural issues that have arisen at the high school.” That letter sparked protests because it outlined separate meetings for white students and students of color.
In addition to parents and former students, the school district also reacted to the plan for segregated meetings.
“We recently became aware of this communication and this event, and we are equally dismayed,” DCPS wrote in a statement. “The Thursday event is being canceled, and we will be assisting the consultants and the school with a more appropriate plan going forward.”
The school said the reason it initially had decided to divide students for an initial meeting so it would be a “safe space” for discussions. The students would then meet for a second meeting with all students together.
Hammer went on the school intercom the day after the meetings were canceled to apologize.
“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.
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 before.
“I think that this sadly has taken away the possibility of trusting administration to create that safe space for students,” said 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.”
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.