Lee principal speaks to students about BLM flag controversy, student demonstrations

Administrator launches weekly lunchtime listening sessions for students

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The principal of Jacksonville’s Robert E. Lee High School opened up to students on Friday about the administration’s controversial decision to remove a teacher’s Black Lives Matter flag from the school’s hallway, the resulting plans by students to stage a protest of that decision, and a strategy to help students voice their concerns directly to him.

Remarks by Principal Timothy Feagins were captured in a series of cell phone videos by Lee students and provided to News4Jax.

Feagins is seen in the clips addressing students in a classroom setting, at one point, issuing an apology.

“I want to tell you that I’m sorry,” Feagins said. “I’m sorry that any of you are feeling that you’re not valued, that you’re marginalized, that you don’t have a voice. That because a district policy was enforced, that there’s not a belief that Black lives matter — because that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

The principal defended the school’s decision to remove the “Black Lives Matter” flag from outside the classroom of Lee teacher Amy Donofrio, saying it was due to district policy.

“If that was a ‘Blue Lives Matter’ flag or an LGBTQ pride flag, it would have to come down, too,” Feagins said. “It just happened to be a Black Lives Matter flag that was up there. So, when it came down, naturally, as I understand, it upset a lot of students because the perception was the high school doesn’t believe in Black Lives Matter... I’m here to tell you just because it’s not displayed doesn’t mean that it doesn’t mean something to us, but we can’t express it to you because then, we’ll be violating policy.”

Feagins’ remarks did not include any additional details about Donofrio’s March 25 reassignment to a paid, non-teaching position as the district investigates “several matters” related to misconduct allegations.

Though the district has not been any more specific on why Donofrio was temporarily reassigned, the action followed her refusal to remove the BLM flag from her doorway, and her display of secondary and tertiary banners after administrators removed the first one.

The principal announced a new, weekly activity called “Fridays with Feagins,” wherein students will be given the opportunity during their lunch period to bring their concerns directly to the administration.

“When we meet with the junior and senior counsel after the lunch period, and we’re going to look at what everybody said and we’re going to start putting together action plans so that we make sure everybody here feels valued and everybody here feels supported,” Feagins said.

The principal issued the following statement:

“I want to make sure every student who attends this school knows that they have a voice, and they have access to me. Sometimes it is not enough just to say your door is open. ‘Fridays with Feagins’ provides a designated time and place for any Lee student to voice their concerns about any issue impacting our school environment. Through listening and understanding, we can continue to grow stronger as a school community.”

Timothy Feagins, Principal of Robert E. Lee High School

Student leaders at Lee High School said they feel encouraged by Feagins actions.

“He is very genuine,” senior student council member Alijah Miller said. “I think it goes to show just how far he truly cares about the students.”

Added Senior Class President Deyona Burton: “It’s very evident that he cares as well. It’s actually followed up with action, and he’s matching our energy. And I think that’s what’s imperative here.”

The video clips also show Feagins beginning to address the ongoing process to consider the renaming of the campus, a subject that’s been the source of five inflammatory community meetings, many stakeholder demonstrations, and online petitions.

The community balloting process for Lee High begins on April 26. The other eight schools under renaming consideration are at various levels of the process.

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