25.11.2020

High school eliminates assembly opt-out policy after outcry over Black History Month event

George Washington High School in Denver, Colorado changed its policy to make educational assemblies mandatory after previously allowing students to opt out. (Photo: Getty Images)

A high school that allowed kids to opt out of a Black History Month assembly changed practice after the decision drew cries of “systemic racism.”

On Thursday, Kristin Waters, the principal of George Washington High School in Denver, Colorado published the policy change on the school website: “Yesterday, in our Weekly Roundup, we shared information regarding the new date for our African American Heritage Month assembly. As part of this posting, there was a link to an opt-out form that has been standard policy for any all-school assembly. Since yesterday afternoon, we have received concerns from our community questioning the opt-out form.”

High school eliminates assembly opt-out policy after outcry over Black History Month event“As we continue the important work of dismantling systemic racism, segregation, and inequity in education, and specifically at George Washington High School, we appreciate our community holding us accountable,” Waters wrote. “To expand the perspectives and learning opportunities for all of our students, it is counter-productive to promote the opportunity to opt-out of an assembly examining any part of history, culture, or current events. Effective immediately we are eliminating the assembly opt-out policy and all students will attend educational assemblies at GW.”

In September, the school offered an opt-out form for an assembly that both honored Hispanic Heritage Month and included an anti-bullying presentation.

Parents received a newsletter on Tuesday containing information about a March 12 “African-American Heritage Month assembly” and its opt-out form, according to the Denver Post. The form was once available on the school website, however, it has since been deleted.

Dear DPS and white accomplices,This is the type of systemic racism that we are talking about that pervades DPS at its…

Posted by Hasira Ashemu on Wednesday, February 27, 2019

“Students who opt-out of the assembly will be supervised in the library for the duration of the assembly and will return to their second-period class at the conclusion of the assembly to continue the school day,” read the newsletter, reported the Denver Post.

But complaints poured into the Denver Public Schools district and onto the radar of community organizer Hasira Ashemu, who on Wednesday, posted on the Facebook page OurVoice-OurSchools.

“Dear DPS and white accomplices, this is the type of systemic racism that we are talking about that pervades DPS at its core,” he wrote. Since when do students get to ‘opt-out’ of Black History Month assemblies?!?!? It’s the same with having teachers “opt-out” of racial bias training and having school leaders “opt-out” of best practices in the discipline of its Black population.

“Every day this is the type of microaggressions that black faculty, parents and students have to face in this racist system,” he wrote. “This is the problem. Perhaps it will require a lawsuit like our Brown Latinx family has won before the district sees Black equity for its staff and students as ABSOLUTELY MANDATORY!! Black History IS American history – you’re welcome!”

“Parents were completely floored and struck by the school’s initial decision and asked me to get involved,” Ashemu told Yahoo Lifestyle.

He said the school has a “storied history” of dealing with inequality, as it pertains to its baccalaureate college-prep program of which the majority of students are white. “It’s pretty segregated right now,” teacher Yasiris Torres told the Denver Post. “It’s mostly white kids in the program, and we’re trying to stop that divide and include everyone.” The school is reportedly working on ways to diversify its curriculum. 

Ashemu has a tentative meeting with Waters to discuss the assembly and the overall approach used to navigate issues of equality. “Certain parents lose their minds at the concept of integration,” he told Yahoo Lifestyle. “The school is hyper-segregated which leads to insensitive decisions like making a Black History Month assembly optional. It was another indicator of an overall problem inside a conservative community.”

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