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Racial issues fuel outcry over Bastrop schools

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TWC News: Racial issues fuel outcry over Bastrop schools
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Community members came together in Bastrop Tuesday evening to protest what they say was an act of racism at an area middle school.

Earlier this year, the principal of Bastrop Middle School pulled aside a group of African-American students and told them the school was performing poorly due to their academic conduct.

“When they called our names over the intercom, all the black peoples’ names in the eighth-grade, for one we were already embarrassed,” student Felicity Higgins said. “I didn't know what was going on and I was already embarrassed. Then when I got in there and she started talking about test scores and then she holds up a poster board and that's supposed to mean something to me? It doesn't at all. It doesn't mean anything to me.”

Hailey Meeks attends Bastrop Middle School as well, but she said she wasn’t invited to the meeting because school officials misidentified her as white.

“They didn't blame me because I was white?” she said. “Made me feel upset, I was pretty mad.”

Protestors marched from an area church to Bastrop ISD’s headquarters in anticipation of a board meeting Tuesday evening.

During the meeting, district officials worked on developing a diversity plan that would take effect before next school year. It would promote diversity awareness to students and teachers alike in hopes of preventing something like this from happening again.

“It's going to look at our staffing trends,” Doug Williams with Bastrop ISD said. “It's going to look at things from a curriculum standpoint. It's also going to look at what are some of the things we can do to be able to be successful in Bastrop ISD.”

Some in the community believe the principal of Bastrop Middle School should step down as a way of apologizing.

Bastrop ISD's superintendent wrote public apology for the incident. That letter was published the Bastrop Advertiser. You can read the full text of the letter below.

“District apology and call for unity”

Letter courtesy The Bastrop Advertiser

Earlier this week we had an incident at Bastrop Middle School that unfortunately singled out two groups of students and made many of them feel to blame for some of the school’s academic shortcomings. This was not only unfortunate and regrettable – it was inappropriate.

As superintendent for Bastrop ISD, I wish to apologize not only to the students, staff and parents that were directly made to feel uncomfortable by virtue of this incident, but also to all other BMS and BISD students, parents and staff and Bastrop community members that have heard of such occurring.

The absence of specifically identifying the group by name or the principal or other parties involved is no accident, as I wish to speak to the greater issue, rather than further single a group or person out or point to a specific incident – and possibly be guilty of any perceived insensibility as well.

Regardless of the group of students addressed or the intent behind addressing them in a manner that they and their parents (and possibly others) perceived to be inappropriate – we are charged with the responsibility to not only educate all students in our care, but to motivate them and cultivate their self-esteem and self-worth in the best and most appropriate ways possible. While the principal did make poor judgments (and has apologized profusely for doing so) she is a caring and extremely hard-working person who wants only the best for all of her students – traits we expect in all of our educators.

The students are 13 and 14-year-olds that truly want to achieve success, but also want to feel valued and respected while doing so – just like all 8th graders and other students do.

Bastrop ISD wants what’s best for all students and we are committed to working with parents, community members, teachers, administrators and support staff to teach, guide, coach, discipline and love all our students.

This incident, while rightfully perceived or seen by many to be negative and possibly a painful reminder that much is still to be done in the way of cultural awareness and respect – can also be a “tipping point” or catalyst in a more positive sense to create stronger bonds, better understanding and mutual respect.

Bastrop ISD stands ready to reach out and work with parents and community members to create not only the best academic environment possible for all students – but also the best possible social, cultural and caring environment to achieve such success.
Thanks for your concern, your understanding and your support and assistance as we move forward down this path of healing and unity.

Steve Murray
Bastrop ISD Superintendent

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