Saturday, February 20, 2016

PCSSD on blacks-only assembly at Maumelle High School: " we were wrong, and we won’t do it again"

Posted By on Sat, Feb 20, 2016 at 8:28 AM

MHS: An assembly last week sparked controversy when black students were singled out for a talk on gang violence.
  • MHS: An assembly last week sparked controversy when black students were singled out for a talk on gang violence.

"You are right, we were wrong, and we won't do it again."

In a letter to the state's ACLU chapter yesterday afternoon, that's how an attorney representing the Pulaski County Special School District (PCSSD) described the controversy over an assembly earlier this week on gang violence at Maumelle High School (MHS) that singled out black students for attendance. The ACLU had raised concerns over the issue, writing in a letter to the school, "Segregating students by race for a school assembly raises grave concerns for the equal protection rights of the students present."  

Whitney Moore, an attorney representing PCSSD, stated that the assembly had not been approved by MHS principal Jeff Senn but rather one of his assistants, who is being desciplined by the district. 

Moore notes that "PCSSD remains under federal district court supervision generally as to its ongoing obligation to not discriminate on the basis of race. A specific aspect of this requires PCSSD to create special programs designed to reduce disparate impact between black and white students in application of discipline. I offer this only in mitigation, not as a defense. This unitary status goal, which is not only laudable but constitutionally mandatory on PCSSD, is what motivated those who erred in designing and executing this particular assembly.

The district's counsel contacted John Walker after learning of the incident: 

Immediately upon learning of this assembly, counsel contacted John W. Walker, counsel in the desegregation litigation for the class of black students of PCSSD, and informed him of the incident. As you probably would have expected, Mr. Walker responded with approval of our motives, but with criticism of our execution.

The letter closes: "I’ll end the way I started. You are right, we were wrong, and we won’t do it again."

Full letter after the jump: 

Dear Ms. Dickson:
I represent Pulaski County Special School District (PCSSD). Dr. Jerry Guess, PCSSD superintendent, asked me to respond to your February 18 letter to Maumelle High School (MHS) principal, Jeff Senn. Your reported description of the February 17 event is, except for insubstantial details, accurate. The easiest way to begin my response is by simply stating that you are right, we were wrong, and we won’t do it again.

The assembly procedure was not designed or approved by Mr. Senn, rather by one of his assistants. That person is being reprimanded by Dr. Guess.

I am attaching a statement to the media about the incident that was issued yesterday by PCSSD. The mention therein of PCSSD’s desegregation responsibilities refers to the fact that PCSSD remains under federal district court supervision generally as to its ongoing obligation to not discriminate on the basis of race. A specific aspect of this requires PCSSD to create special programs designed to reduce disparate impact between black and white students in application of discipline. I offer this only in mitigation, not as a defense. This unitary status goal, which is not only laudable but constitutionally mandatory on PCSSD, is what motivated those who erred in designing and executing this particular assembly.

Immediately upon learning of this assembly, counsel contacted John W. Walker, counsel in the desegregation litigation for the class of black students of PCSSD, and informed him of the incident. As you probably would have expected, Mr. Walker responded with approval of our motives, but with criticism of our execution.

I’ll end the way I started. You are right, we were wrong, and we won’t do it again.

Here was the original statement from the district issued to the media on Wednesday: 

Yesterday, at an assembly during activities period at Maumelle High School, local pastor Dante Shelton was invited to speak to a group of African American, ninth-grade students. He shared his personal success story and encouraged students to make good choices. Freshmen students were identified by the school because it is a time of transition when they are more easily influenced. 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. 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 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.

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