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Florida elementary school principal and teacher are placed on leave after Black students are singled out at an assembly

The principal and a teacher at a Flagler County, Florida, elementary school are on paid administrative leave after an assembly was held only for fourth and fifth-grade Black students, who were collectively told to improve their school performance, according to the school district – regardless of how each student was doing individually.

The two school staffers were placed on leave days after the assembly was held at Bunnell Elementary School on August 18. Only African American students from the two grades participated, Flagler County Schools spokesperson Jason Wheeler told CNN.

During the assembly, a 2023-2024 school year Goals and Objectives PowerPoint presentation was used that read in part, “AA have underperform (sic) on standardized assessment for the last past 3 years,” Flagler County School Board chair Cheryl Massaro told CNN in an email.

“AA is African American, and that is one subgroup the FDOE requires annual reporting on from all Florida schools. The power point, created by one of the presenters shows the data results,” Massaro said in the email.

Flagler Schools interim superintendent Lashakia Moore said in a news conference Thursday, “This should not have happened, but it did,” and offered an apology to the students and their families.

“We make no excuses of what happened, we offer our apology, and we offer actionable actions for us to move forward in supporting our students, supporting our schools and supporting this community,” she said.

“It is my responsibility to identify ‘why did this happen?’ We do have an investigation that is ongoing at this time, and we will continue to move forward as we get additional information at the conclusion of the investigation.”

Moore has spoken with the majority of families who have been impacted, she said.

“We have either spoken face-to-face or on the phone,” she said, adding that parents were “upset, concerned as to how and why it happened, but the majority of families that I spoke with their end conversation was ‘what do we do now, how do we work together as a community which is inclusive of our families, how do we work together in order to ensure that we are never in this place again?’”

In the past, chats about performance were discussed with students at an individual level or at parent-teacher conferences, Moore said.

“We want to definitely ensure that our students know where they are performing. We put procedures and strategies and interventions in place for those students to be successful,” Moore said.

On Tuesday, Moore said she spoke with Bunnell Elementary Principal Donelle Evensen and they “have been able to talk about what led to this assembly and steps that were or were not taken before or after it.”

“In speaking with Mrs. Evensen, it is clear there was no malice intended in planning this student outreach. However, sometimes, when you try to think ‘outside the box,’ you forget why the box is there.

“While the desire to help this particular subgroup of students is to be commended, how this was done does not meet the expectations we desire among Flagler Schools. We want our parents and guardians to actively participate in their children’s educational successes. Without informing them of this assembly or of the plans to raise these scores, our parents were not properly engaged.”

CNN has reached out to Evensen for comment.

CNN’s Amanda Jackson, Melissa Alonso, Sara Smart, Jillian Sykes and Michelle Watson contributed to this report.

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