Douglas Anderson School of the Arts criticized for proposing to separate students by race for cultural discussions

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Douglas Anderson School of the Arts were planning on holding a cultural discussion with its students on Thursday. The meeting would feature Dr. Tammy Hodo, a local TEDx speaker and lead consultant at All Things Diverse, and Grammy winner/DA Alum Ulysses Owens. Parents received an email Tuesday night informing them of the meeting.

What parents were not expecting were the students being separated and attending two separate meetings, based on the students race.

Good Afternoon DA Families:

Dr. Hodo, President of All Things Diverse, LLC, and Ulysses Owens, DA Artist in Residence and DA Alum, will be hosting two student meetings on Thursday morning, March 4. These meetings are to discuss cultural issues that have arisen at DA and to ensure that DA truly is a place for all.

The two meetings are scheduled as follows:

9 am will be for all 11th and 12th-grade students of color, and 10:30 am will be for all 11th and 12th-grade white students. There will be an announcement made before each meeting to dismiss students to the cafeteria.

By working together, we can all create the best DA.

Thank you, and have a great evening.

—  Douglas Anderson High School Principal Melanie Hammer

When the email went out, several parents, students, and alumni reached back out to the school in outrage over the separation of the students.

A second email was sent out by the school.

Good Evening DA Families:

Many have reached out with questions regarding why two separate meetings have been scheduled. DA has partnered with a diversity consultant to help address concerns and ensure all student voices are heard.

Our diversity consultant is hosting two meetings in hopes of creating a safe space to allow students to be transparent about their experiences at DA. We realize that we can’t control what happens outside of school but it does impact the lives of students and they bring that with them to school. We are not immune to what happens in the world around us and are attempting to be proactive in our methods. If last year taught us anything it is that we still have a lot of work to do regarding race relations as a nation and a school.

This is just the first step in the process. Our consultant will continue to work closely with DA students bringing everyone together for our common goal.

Thank you and have a great evening.

—  Douglas Anderson High School Principal Melanie Hammer

However, this did not calm parents concerns. By 11 p.m., a third email went out, which effectively cancelled the meetings.

Dear Douglas Anderson families,

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.

—  Douglas Anderson High School Principal Melanie Hammer

Wednesday morning, the Duval County School District has released a statement saying they only recently became aware of the events that were going to happen.

“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,” the district’s statement read.

Sarah Copeland is a parent of two students at Douglas Anderson. She says the separation of students was uncalled for and the statement from the school didn’t address the problem.

“There’s no way any adult could look at this, any reasonable educated adult could look at this and say ‘yeah totally didn’t see how that could possibly be an issue of segregating students by race’” Copeland said.

Last year, Douglas Anderson students and alumni call for change after testimonies of racism published online. The two former students collected 15 pages of separate testimonies from former students about their time at the school. The testimonies include students using the n-word and a screenshot of a student in blackface. Since those testimonies have been published, the school’s principal, Melanie Hammer, created a Student Culture Advisory group to help address the issues.

The lead consultant for the meeting, Hodo, specializes in Race & Ethnicity, Sex, Gender, and Identity, Implicit Bias Training, Microaggressions, Institutional Racism, Anti-racism Work, and Critical Race Theory, according to All Things Diverse. WOKV reached out to Hodo, but has not received a response at the time of publishing.

WOKV has also reached out to Hammer and Owens, but have also not gotten a response at this time.

Hannah Lee

Hannah Lee

Hannah Lee is a General Assignment Reporter for 104.5 WOKV.

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