Principal Sorry for Making 'All Lives Matter' Theme of Black History Month

The principal of a middle school in Tennessee has apologized for announcing "All Lives Matter" as the theme of Black History Month this February in a newsletter sent to parents.

The phrase "all lives matter" has been a controversial response to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, which condemns police brutality and systemic racism against members of the Black community.

The theme was announced by Christy Caldwell Drake, the principal of East Ridge Middle School (ERMS) in Chattanooga, in an email newsletter sent to parents on Sunday. The bulletin, which updated parents on the resuming of in-person instruction, included the words "ALL LIVES MATTER" in bold lettering, indicating it as the "ERMS Theme" for Black History Month, according to a screenshot of the newsletter shared by Chattanooga's WTVC.

Drake, who is Black, issued an apology on Monday in a letter emailed to families, which was posted on the Facebook page of the East Middle School PTSA (Parent Teacher Student Association).

The principal stated: "Yesterday, I sent the regular newsletter providing updates to our families as we return to in-person learning this week. As part of that newsletter, I highlighted February as Black History Month with a theme of 'All Lives Matter.' I want to apologize for not more fully considering the context of that theme, as my inspiration for it was taken from a mural within our school that states 'Where Every Child Matters.'

"As a black woman in leadership, I embrace civil rights, Black History Month and the sacrifices that have been made by those who came before me. I hope that my students, many of whom look like me, believe in the possibilities of their unlimited potential," she wrote.

Noting her father was a local pastor and civil rights leader, she wrote: "I had the opportunity to experience firsthand the fight for equality.

"I firmly believe that every child that walks through the doors of East Ridge Middle School matters, and my heart was to emphasize how important each one of our students are to me."

Here’s the full “All Lives Matter” Black History Month theme screenshot from the @newschannelnine article about East Ridge Middle. pic.twitter.com/9mmM5bbswU

— Chattanooga Holler (@NoogaHoller) February 1, 2021

The theme has been removed and the school district is not planning any further action, a spokesperson for Hamilton County Schools, Cody Patterson, told CNN.

"If you read her apology letter, you'll kind of see her heart," said Patterson.

A theme has not been designated for Black History Month. "We're recognizing and celebrating the sacrifices made by so many Black Americans," Patterson added.

Around 35 percent of ERMS students are Black, 36 percent are Hispanic and 1.6 percent are Asian, while around 27 percent are white, according to the Tennessee Department of Education.

Jessica Arnold, a parent at the school who emailed the principal to raise her concerns after receiving the original newsletter, told WTVC: "I really don't want to be the white lady calling people out on this kind of thing, but the point is we're never going to change if we don't, right?"

"It was kind of a slap in the face to me," Arnold told the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

"I can't even imagine how a person of color would look at it and how they would feel ... It would be bad enough that they did it anytime. But the fact that they announced 'Ooo it's Black History Month, and we're gonna say this' it's just like, unbelievable," she added.

Drake was reported to have replied to Arnold's email by referencing the mural displayed at the school which says 'Every student matters' in 15 languages, noting the school works to celebrate all races and ethnicities, according to an email correspondence Arnold shared with the Times Free Press.

Arnold told the Times Free Press: "We are trying to educate our children to do better and be better than we were...that's what I'm trying to do with my kids. I want [my daughter] to understand that people are different and that's OK.

"I feel like we've made progress lately...but I think it's unacceptable for any kind of educator or government...this to me is a step backward. I feel like they marginalized the 34 percent of their student population by doing that."

Earlier this week, a "small group" of teachers was placed on leave in Wisconsin after a class of sixth-graders were asked how they would punish a slave during an online assignment.

The Sun Prairie Area School District apologized to parents for the "grave error" after complaints were made about the question posed on the first day of Black History Month.

The ongoing BLM movement began online in 2013 with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old black teenager in Miami, Florida.

The movement was reignited last year following the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died last May during an arrest made by the Minneapolis Police Department after Derek Chauvin, a white officer, held Floyd to the ground with a knee to his neck for nearly eight minutes.

Floyd's death saw a series of protests erupt across the country and around the world. The four officers involved in the incident were arrested, including Chauvin, who is facing second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges in an upcoming trial next month.

George Floyd protest Tennessee June 2020
Protesters seen in downtown Nashville, Tennessee on June 4, 2020 following the killing of George Floyd last May, which reignited the Black Lives Matter movement. A principal in Tennessee has issued an apology for making "All Lives Matter" the school's theme for Black History Month in February. Jason Kempin/Getty Images