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Denver High School Backtracks After Allowing Students to ‘Opt Out’ of Black History Month Assembly

A Denver high school is backtracking amid fallout over a policy allowing parents to exclude their children from an upcoming Black History Month assembly.

On Tuesday, George Washington High School in Denver sent an email announcing that it would host an African-American Heritage Month assembly in March, and attached an opt-out form for parents to allow their students to skip the event.

George Washington High School
Authorities at George Washington High School said the option to opt out was standard across all educational assemblies at the school. (Photo by Kevin J. Beaty)

“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,” according to the newsletter obtained by The Denver Post.

Backlash was swift, however, and the school retracted the controversial policy the following day.

“Effective immediately, we’re eliminating the assembly opt-out policy and all students will attend educational assemblies at GW,” Principal Kristin Waters said in a statement. “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.”

She added: “Change and progress are a product of collaboration, respect and shared values. Thank you for contributing your voice and embracing out community.”

According to The Denver Post, angry locals flooded the school with phone calls earlier this week, expressing their outrage over the fact that an assembly intended to celebrate Black American heritage was allowed to be skipped. The decision to make the assembly optional hit a nerve for many, however, school leaders said the opt-out form was standard practice for all assemblies at the school.

Not everyone saw it that way and accused George Washington High of perpetuating “systemic racism.”

“‘This is the type of systemic racism that we are talking about that pervades DPS at its core,” Hasira Ashemu, a local activist and co-founder of education advocacy group Our Voice, Our Schools, wrote on Facebook. “Since when do students get to ‘opt out’ of Black History Month?!?!? It’s the same with having teachers ‘opt out’ of racial bias training and having school leaders ‘opt-out’ of best practices in discipline of its Black population.”

“Everyday this is the type of microaggressions that Black faculty, parents and students have to face in this racist system,” Ashemu continued.

The Black heritage assembly was reportedly the result of a resolution passed by the Denver Board of Education last week aimed at boosting the success of the district’s Black students. After the outrage, Denver locals commended Waters for listening to the community and reversing the opt-out policy.

“I don’t know who the principal is over at George Washington personally but whoever she is she’s a whole lot more responsive to Black equity demands then the DPS admin seems to be,” Ashemu wrote. “The work is just beginning.”

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