BUNNELL – The internal investigation into Bunnell Elementary School’s segregated school assembly last month has been completed and released to the public. Little major information was included that wasn’t already reported, but the community has now received a confirmation that now-resigned Principal Donelle Evensen did green-light the assembly.
Superintendent LaShakia Moore included a statement with the investigation, again reassuring those parents who are still frustrated by what occurred. “The final reports from our Office of Professional Standards have now been made available to the public,” she said. “My message is the same as I’ve told the parents of Bunnell Elementary Schools: this was unacceptable. We will do better, and that begins with transparency and training for all our staff, administrators, and educators. This incident was not indicative of Flagler Schools, and we have much to do to regain the trust of many in our community.”
Superintendent Moore also confirmed the rescheduled date of a planned community forum in which the public could ask questions about what occurred. That will take place on Wednesday, September 27th at the Carver Center in Bunnell. The Q&A was previously slated to be held earlier in September, but was postponed due to Hurricane Idalia.
The district’s investigation was conducted by Michael Rinaldi, the district’s Coordinator of Professional Standards. Evensen was examined specifically, as was Anthony Hines, the teacher credited with formulating the idea for the assembly. Both individuals resigned their posts amid public backlash against them and speculation that this investigation may lead to their firing.
One point made by those advocating for Evensen in the fallout of the assembly was that she may not have known the full extent of the content of the assemblies. The investigation explicitly states that Evensen reviewed the slideshow played for students and told Hines it was good to go. She also approved the academic tournament that students were placed into following Hines’ remarks. Evensen did claim, however, that for the few minutes she was at the assembly she did not personally witness anything said by Hines that wasn’t on the slides she approved.
Also interviewed was Marcus Sanfilippo, the Coordinator of Professional Standards for Flagler Schools, as well as former principal and now interim principal at BES. Sanfilippo spoke to how Hines had already started a mentoring group for Black students who needed academic support, and that the program had been somewhat successful. That would lead Hines to desire a broader forum to speak to Black students at Bunnell, in which he wanted to open the occasion up to all academic performance levels in order to make sure the “setting was positive for everyone, not just low performing students”. This confirms another detail that’s been widely reported: that students were chosen to attend the assembly on the basis of race alone, and not because they particularly needed help or encouragement with their test scores.
From here, the objectionable parts occurred. The separate gatherings of fourth and fifth grade Black students were told that low test scores could correspond to a life of imprisonment or being shot to death later on, and later placed in an academic tournament against one another. High-scoring students were reportedly called up and singled out in front of their peers as examples. Any intention Hines and other educators may have had did not translate to the optics of the event.
The investigation also confirmed additional teachers who worked alongside Hines to coordinate the assembly: Tyonna Steed and Gary Gabriel. These teachers were previously named in the slideshow.
“I Anthony Hines intended to incentivize the 4th and 5th grade African American students by placing them in a competitive bracket challenge to compete against similar achieving students,” Hines said in a direct quote from the investigation. “I also shared at the end of the presentation heartfelt words about individuals I grew up with who chose not to follow rules and take responsibility ended up incarcerated, show, or involved with gun violence or no longer with us. This was again in regard to students “choices” on and off campus.”
Donelle Evensen was not directly quoted in the investigation report. Since stepping down from her principal job Evensen has been the subject of a GoFundMe fundraiser started by her father to financially back her. The page says she ‘unfairly lost her job through media assault’, blaming ‘the mob of the media’ for making her ‘their sacrificial lamb on the altar of public & media attention’.