An Arkansas school district is coming under fire for organizing an anti-gang lecture that was only attended by Black students.
According to The Guardian, Maumelle High School in Little Rock organized an assembly where students would hear a speech about the dangers of gangs and drugs by local pastor Dante Shelton. The problem: Only Black students were ordered to attend.
The school is already trying to walk back its mistake. A spokesperson for the Pulaski County Special School District is now trying to say it was not an anti-gang assembly, but rather a “motivational speech.”
“A local pastor 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,” said the statement. “The Pulaski County Special School District [PCSSD] 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.”
The district also tried to downplay the fact that only Black students were invited to the assembly.
“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,” according to the statement. “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.”
However, The Guardian reported that the Pulaski County Special School District has already received a letter from the ACLU complaining about their actions. The ACLU accused the school district of violating Black students’ equal protection under the law and exposing them to harmful stereotypes.
“We were deeply concerned that the students were singled out for this type of assembly in the manner of which they were,” said Holly Dickson, legal director ACLU of Arkansas.
Some of the students who attended the rally found it hard to believe that they were still having to deal with segregation in today’s society.
“[Where] does that leave kids that are mixed? ‘Oh, you know, that’s my other side that’s calling, let me go learn about gang-banging.’ To me, it’s just wrong on every level,” said Aaron Perkins, whose younger sister attended the assembly, in a KATV interview. “She felt that it was very racist … This is 2016. All kids should understand and listen to what this reverend had to talk about. It’s probably great information, but [don’t] single out the Black kids.”
According to The Guardian, Whitney Moore, an attorney for the school district, said the staff who approved the assembly had been reprimanded. He said they were simply trying to comply with federal requirements.