Officials apologize for school's African-American only student assembly

BENICIA, Calif. (KTVU) -- Officials at a Benicia school were doing damage control Tuesday after a well-intentioned teacher held an unauthorized Black History Month assembly, inviting only African-American students to attend.

"It looks like segregation. Certainly does. It was," Benicia Unified School District Superintendent Janice Adams said. "I understand how it looks and I'm very sorry for that, because that's not the impression that we want to give about our school."

Adams said the teacher at Benicia Middle School who organized the assembly did it without clearance from the school.

"She really is a great person and she made a judgment call that wasn't good," Adams explained. "I do believe her intentions were good. She made a bad decision."

The teacher is the only African-American teacher on Benicia Middle School's campus. She talked to KTVU off-camera, explaining she held the assembly to address growing concerns about use of racial slurs like the "N" word on campus.

She showed a short YouTube clip about education and the Civil Rights Movement, and handed out a survey about racial attitudes. She said she thought students would be more open to talk if they were among other African-American students.

"This is not an issue that impacts just African American students. It impacts our entire school population and that's the important thing to me," Adams said. "We want to make sure that every student who comes to school feels valued respected and treated with respect."

The school found out about the assembly after parents called to complain.

"As a parent I can understand why there's concern, because kids came home and said, 'I was shown a movie, I took a survey, and oh and by the way, everybody in the room was also African American like me,'" said parent and school board trustee Andre Stewart.

"That's not right, 'cause you're going back to the '60s with segregation," scoffed parent Ramonte Robinson. "I mean, we're all equal here."

The school principal sent a letter home to parents, explaining what happened. It read, in part, "While the teacher's actions were well intended, she did not follow the appropriate protocols. I apologize for not allowing parents to give permission prior to the assembly."

Stewart said the intended message is still one that needs to be heard by everyone.

"We still have to address the issue of kids. You cannot call each other the "N" word and all these different words," he pleased. "Because they have harm. They have a hateful history behind them."