Douglas Anderson School of the Arts facing backlash over plans to segregate students during diversity meetings

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A local school stated it planned to tackle cultural issues in the classroom by segregating students.

Douglas Anderson School of the Arts scheduled two diversity meetings — one for white students and the other for students of color.

The school has canceled those meetings following the backlash.

Action News Jax’s Courtney Cole spent the afternoon talking to some Douglas Anderson parents. Even though the meetings are canceled, the parents she spoke with said they’re just not sure why or how something like this could get approved in the first place.

One parent told Action News Jax the students were actually the driving force behind the cancellation of the meetings.

“I was totally shocked that this would be going on in 2021!” said Michael Batiste.

Batiste is appalled at the separate meetings that were supposed to be held to discuss cultural issues at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts.

“I didn’t understand how they could consider that diversity when you were going to separate the children based on the color of their skin,” Batiste told Cole.

In an email sent out to families by Douglas Anderson Principal Melanie Hammer, she said one meeting was scheduled for students of color and a separate one was set for the white students.

“My daughter is a multicultural child, OK? And she was somewhat confused,” Batiste said.

He said his daughter was totally against the idea that she had to choose which race she identified with. She planned to go to both meetings before they were canceled.

“She wanted to hear what the other kids were saying. Because there’s a lot of racial terms being used and favoritism, she said, based on the color of your skin at the school,” Batiste told Cole.

Cole went to the school district to ask what type of vetting process schools must go through before they can hold a meeting like this and who makes the final call.

The school district referred us back to the statement they sent this morning, as below.

Cole also asked the school district if diversifying leadership is being considered.

DCPS responded via email, sharing a study done by the Jacksonville Public Education Fund in collaboration with the Duval County School District.

It showed there is room for improvement regarding the racial makeup of its teachers.

But the study also pointed out the racial makeup of school leadership. The study stated it is representative of students, with more than half of DCPS principals — 55% — identifying as Black.

You can read the full study HERE.

The DCPS statement:

“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.”

Hammer also provided a response:

“As you know, we have implemented a series of strategies at Douglas Anderson to improve the culture of our school and the experience of our students. Working with consultants in the area of diversity, an event scheduled for Thursday was communicated in such a way as to have the appearance of dividing, not uniting, our student body.

“One of our core values as a school is a belief that the arts is a powerful way to bridge differences among people. We now realize that the communication around the event and the manner in which the event itself was organized are contrary to our values and to the goals we have for improving our culture. Therefore, we are revisiting our approach with our consultants and will develop a new strategy for leading our students through these sensitive topics and conversations.

“The events scheduled for Thursday are being canceled while we reconsider our approach. In collaboration with and on behalf of our consultants and our school, we apologize for the lack of clarity with which this was originally communicated and that our path forward wasn’t more thoughtfully considered.

“Our commitment to this work with our students and our staff remains steadfast, and I will provide additional information as we revise our plan consistent with our goal of creating a safe space where all students feel comfortable sharing their voices with their peers and with school leaders.”

UPDATED STORY 3/3/2021 4:59 p.m.:

Hammer sent out a new message to students and staff:

“Good afternoon students and faculty,

“This is Principal Hammer. From the bottom of my heart, I just want to apologize.

“I look around this school, and I can see the hurt and pain.

“I truly don’t know what to say except I care deeply about each and every one of you, and the experience you have at Douglas Anderson.

“And you each deserve to have the best possible high school experience.

“I remain 100 percent dedicated to working together with you to improve the racial and cultural experience of our school.

“We are fractured, but we are family.

“The work is hard, and I’ve made mistakes, but I love each of you.

“And I do hope you forgive me, and we continue strengthening our family together.

“Thank you for listening.”