FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla. – The principal of a Flagler County elementary school has resigned following a controversy over her handling of a recent assembly that targeted the academic performance of Black students.
The encounter provoked intense backlash and made national news.
Donelle Evensen, principal at Bunnell Elementary School, informed Superintendent LaShakia Moore that she is resigning from her post, the Flagler County School District said in a news release Thursday morning.
Evensen told News4JAX she can’t apologize enough for the harm caused, but she doesn’t feel like she should have been removed from her post.
Evensen and a teacher were placed on administrative leave following the assembly that was held for “African American students that scored below a three on testing.”
The assembly sparked an investigation by the county over what happened.
Furious parents said what their children were told was unbelievable, including one parent who said that their child was told if they didn’t perform well in school and go to college they could end up in jail, shot or killed. Those parents, it turns out, didn’t know about the assembly until their children started talking about it.
Jacinda Arrington’s 4th-grade daughter and her nephew were among the students at Bunnell Elementary School removed from their classrooms and lectured about test scores because of their race.
“Absolutely uncomfortable for my children, uncomfortable for a lot of the other parents who have children that have gone through this, uncomfortable for me as a parent, because at the end of the day, I’m supposed to trust who I’m sending my children to,” Arrington said.
She said it was a breath of fresh air when Evensen resigned.
“I feel like she needed to be held accountable,” Arrington said.
However, the principal told News4JAX she thinks it was wrong for the district to put her on leave during the investigation into the incident.
“What’s being portrayed is not who I am. And that’s not what my intent was. That was not the vision,” Evensen said.
She said the goal of the assembly was to inspire Black students to improve what she said were subpar test scores with opportunities for mentorship, one-on-one competitions and fast food prizes.
“We have to change that trajectory,” she said. “So that’s a conversation that we’ve had year after year at the elementary, how are we going to make a difference for these students?”
Evensen approved the assembly and told News4JAX it was the idea of a teacher, who is Black, and that other Black teachers were also present for the assembly.
“After talking to families and hearing the frustration, I definitely understand the concern of having the students that were participating, only being African American students,” Evensen said. “And so I would in hindsight, do that differently. But I never was looking at it from a racial aspect.”
She said she viewed the students at the assembly as part of a group that needed to improve test scores not as a racial group. To parents and people in the community, though, the failure to see each child as an individual and take into account a history of racial injustice meant Evensen needed to step down.
School Board Chair Cheryl Massaro and Superintendent LaShakia Moore both offered “no excuses” for what happened at the school.
Superintendent Moore has asked former BES principal Marcus Sanfilippo to return to the campus in an interim role, the district said.
The district said the investigation into the assembly has not been completed as of Thursday morning but Superintendent Moore expects it to be complete by Friday.
Another teacher was placed on leave during the school district’s investigation but there was no word Thursday on his status.