LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Pulaski County schools officials claim they were complying a desegregation court order when they held a blacks-only student assembly focused on gang violence.
Parents, students and the American Civil Liberties Union, meanwhile, are pointing out the irony of segregating students in an effort to desegregate students, News Channel 3 reports.
“Segregating students by race for a school assembly raises grave concerns for the equal protection rights of the students present,” ACLU Arkansas legal director Holly Dickson wrote in a letter accusing the district of racism.
“If this occurred as reported to us, to be called out in a racially segregated fashion and singled out for a lecture on gangs and drug violated these students’ rights to equal protection under the law and labels them with harmful stereotypes about students of color,” she wrote, according to the Arkansas Times.
KATV reports Maumelle High School officials called all black freshmen to an assembly last Wednesday, when local pastor Dante Shelton spoke to students about his life story, gangs, violence, and related issues. The talk was aimed at complying with a 1982 federal court that forces officials to address “unconstitutional racial segregation,” the Digital Journal reports.
“Freshman students were identified by the school because it is a time of transition when they are more easily influenced,” the district said in a statement cited by the Journal. “Black students were selected with the intent that the assembly would be an extension of the district’s court-ordered desegregation efforts, which encourage programs and opportunities tailored to minority students.”
District officials said the program was voluntary, and they now “regret” not including all students.
“Students who did not want to attend the program were not required to do so, and the response to Mr. Shelton’s presentation was overwhelmingly positive,” the statement read. “The Pulaski County Special School District regrets that this inspirational program was not made available to all students and in the future will work to ensure that when outside speakers are brought into a school that all students are included.”
PCSSD attorney Whitney Moore apologized to the ACLU in a response letter that placed the blame for the assembly on an assistant principal at the school.
“The easiest way to be begin my response is by simply stating that you are right, we were wrong, and we won’t do it again,” Moore wrote. “The assembly procedure was not designed or approved by (Maumelle High School Principal Jeff Senn), rather by one of his assistants. That person is being reprimanded by (superintendent Jerry Guess).”
Moore said district officials also contacted John W. Walker, who represents black students in the desegregation case, to discuss the assembly.
“As you probably would have expected, Mr. Walker responded with approval of our motives, but criticism of our execution,” Moore wrote in the response letter. “I’ll end the way I started. You are right, we were wrong, and we won’t do it again.”
Black students and their relatives will undoubtedly hold the district to its word.
Arron Perkins, whose sister was pulled out of math class for the assembly, said the blacks only event was simply wrong.
“When I talked to her about it, she felt that it was very racist,” he told News Channel 3. “Someone in the group asked, ‘Why are there no other kids besides African-American kids here?”
Perkins, who is mixed race, also highlighted the irony of the blacks only desegregation program.
“This is 2016,” he said. “All kids should understand and listen to what this reverend had to talk about, which was probably all great information, but to only single out the black kids because they’re black” isn’t right.