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Arkansas High School Holds Blacks-Only Assembly on Gang Violence, Drugs

Maumelle High School (THV11 screen grab)

Maumelle High School (THV11 screen grab)

An Arkansas high school is being accused of racism after it held an assembly on drugs and gang violence and instructed only black students to attend.

KATV reports black freshmen at Maumelle High School in Maumelle, 18 miles (29 km) northwest of Little Rock, were called out over the school’s public announcement system shortly after arriving for classes on Wednesday morning. They were told to report to the auditorium for an assembly at which local pastor Dante Shelton discussed his past life of gang violence and drugs. Black girls were allegedly asked why they are attracted to gang members.

Student Arron Perkins and his sister questioned why only black students were called to the assembly.

“When I talked to her about it, she felt that it was very racist,” Perkins told KATV. “Someone in the group asked, why are there no other kids except for African-American kids here?”

“What does that leave kids that are mixed?” added Perkins, who is biracial. “‘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.”

The Pulaski County Special School District (PCSSD) explained that the assembly was meant to comply with a court desegregation order. The district has been under court supervision since 1982 after a federal district court declared it was practicing unconstitutional racial segregation.

“Freshmen students were identified by the school because it is a time of transition when they are more easily influenced,” PCSSD said in a statement. “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 district added. “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.”

Arkansas Times reports the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arkansas sent Maumelle High School principal Jeff Senn a letter accusing officials of racial segregation.

“Segregating students by race for a school assembly raises grave concerns for the equal protection rights of the students present,” wrote ACLU of Arkansas legal director Holly Dickson. “If this occurred as reported to us, to be called out in a racially segregated fashion and singled out for a lecture on gangs and drugs violated these students’ rights to equal protection under the law and labels them with harmful stereotypes about students of color.”

In response to the ACLU letter, PCSSD attorney Whitney Moore said the district had made a mistake which it would not repeat.

“Your reported description of the February 17 event is, except for insubstantial details, accurate,” wrote Moore. “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.”

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