FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla. — Documents are finally answering the community’s biggest question after fourth- and fifth-grade Black students at Bunnell Elementary School were marched into an assembly in August and told to raise their grades – or their futures would involve jail or gunfire.
Flagler County Schools’ internal investigation showed the idea began with teacher Anthony Hines excitedly approaching the school’s then-principal about a program he started mentoring Black students in small groups that was showing promising results.
Citing training data that showed Black students overall scored worse than peers on tests, he proposed expanding his program to include more kids. The principal, Marcus Sanfilippo, agreed.
The idea the two worked out, according to conversations with Sanfilippo, was that Hines would “push in” to additional fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms and continue his small group format.
However, Sanfilippo was promoted, and the school’s new principal, Donelle Evensen, wasn’t fully read into the developing situation. According to documents, she was under the impression Hines was to begin working with all Black students in those two grades and needed to meet with all of them at once to introduce his program.
The program had students competing against each other, with those who “won” and raised their grades and scores the most getting food rewards.
Hines and Evensen scheduled an assembly without looping in much of the administrative or teaching staff, only sending emails with bits of information. Evensen admitted it was outside of the normal assembly process, but only because Hines was already taking the lead on it.
No one questioned the thought or image of only inviting the school’s Black students, and all Black students were invited because the high-achievers would act as leaders and benefit from the program as well, Hines said.
When asked why students of other races weren’t involved, the duo revealed it was because they believed they needed to target the Black population and that ongoing efforts to aid those students weren’t working.
The investigation did not get into why parents weren’t notified in advance.
Evensen said she approved the PowerPoint Hines used, but both said the remarks that offended the students the most – that their futures were full of jail and shootings if they didn’t do well in school – were unscripted. Hines said in those moments, he was pouring his heart out about the kids he grew up with.
Some staff described those comments as unscripted, but unproblematic, while others were overheard calling the assembly weird, according to the report.
Both Hines and Evensen resigned in the fallout from the assembly. The district furiously apologized and community meetings were held to heal the wounds and ensure the events are not repeated.
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