An Arkansas high school is facing criticism for inviting only black freshman to an anti-gang assembly with a local youth pastor this week.
The Pulaski County Special School District, which covers suburbs of Little Rock and parts of the city, says Maumelle High School held the program as part of its court-ordered desegregation efforts, which call for “programs and opportunities tailored to minority students,” local station KATV reports. The district has been a party in the long-running desegregation lawsuit the Little Rock School district filed against the state and two other districts in 1989. In that case, the districts agreed to efforts to increase equity and opportunity for black students in a variety of areas, including facilities, discipline, academics, and other areas.
But, rather than providing additional opportunities for black students, the assembly unfairly singled them out, the ACLU of Arkansas said in a letter to the school shared by KATV.
The district defended the assembly in a statement:
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, 9th 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."
Some larger urban districts have won praise for programs targeted to the needs of specific student groups. For example, Oakland Unified has a growing African-American Male Achievement program through which cohorts of boys are mentored and taught by black men from the community. That program focuses on “changing the narrative” and breaking misconceptions about what it means to be an African-American man. The Arkansas high school’s assembly may have had the opposite effect, the ACLU argues.
- Educator Leads Campaign to Transform Lives of Black Boys
- Judge Approves End to Little Rock Desegregation Settlement
- Districts’ Boys-Only Programs Prompt Legal Questions
- Schools Deemed ‘Discriminatory’ Struggle to Erase Disparities
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.