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Principal Separates Black, Hispanic Students After Fight; ACLU Weighs In

A middle school principal who pulled black and Hispanic students out of class for separate assemblies on conduct issues is defending her actions as the ACLU weighs in on the matter.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A middle school principal who pulled black and Hispanic students out of class for separate assemblies on conduct issues says she would do it again if she had to.

Dillard Drive Middle School Principal Teresa Abron said she pulled seventh-graders from class on Tuesday because of a fight that morning between a black girl and a Hispanic girl.

"We are in a better place today than we were yesterday because of the conversation with our students," Abron said.

Wake County Public School System officials said the fight had gang overtones to it and that one of the girls wore an article of clothing to school in an effort to intimidate the other girl.

Friends of both students also became involved in a heated argument, officials said.

"All of the students were not involved, but we were not able to identify all of the students," Abron said. "We prefaced our conversation with telling the students that 'we know some of you don't need to be here.'"

Abron and an assistant principal talked about conduct and grades. She said she had the honor roll students stand up as a "good example" for everyone else.

"We addressed respect and responsibility," Abron said. "We talked about academics. We talked about school attire."

She said there is not an ongoing problem with gangs or racism at the school, but she called the separate assemblies in effort to resolve any problems before they got bigger.

Wake County schools spokesman Michael Evans said the system was not concerned with Abron's actions and that the issue was handled on the school level as it should have been.

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina expressed concerns over the assemblies, issuing a statement that it is looking into the reports.

"Principal Abron is to be commended for attempting to respond to the specific altercation that occurred and for attempting to promote non-violence," executive director Jennifer Rudinger said. "Unfortunately, her methods of addressing these issues will only further divide students based on race or ethnicity and exacerbate the problems in her school."

In an e-mail sent Tuesday after the fight, school administrators ask that teachers send black students to the school's auditorium at 1:55 p.m., and when they returned, to send Hispanic students. The e-mail asked teachers to be as discreet as possible when dismissing the students.

White students were not called to the assembly, Abron said, because none of them was identified as being involved. Had they been, they would also have been called, she said.

"Do white students need to work on their attire, their grades and the way they act in school?" Abron said. "Yes, I think at some given point, all students need to be reminded of what is appropriate and what is not appropriate. Some need to be reminded more than others, depending on what the situation is."

Rudinger said that by removing only blacks and Hispanics from class, she "unwittingly perpetuated the stereotype that students of color are 'problem students' who must be dealt with, while white students do not need to attend the assembly because white students are less likely to get into trouble."

Local reaction has been mixed. Abron said she's received positive response from both parents and students about how she handled the situation.

"When kids exited, they were saying, 'Thank you, Mrs. Abron, thank you,'" she said. "That is a good thing to me."

Paul Architetto, a technology teacher, was at at the assembly and said he thought Abron's actions were appropriate.

"I thought it was good, straight talk that needed to be said," he said.

Some parents were unaware of the assembly and others were unsure whether it was appropriate.

"I personally would not have suggested doing that," said parent Patty Knio. "I would have done it another way."