Student-led ‘segregated' water fountain experiment at Harmony Science Academy sparks controversy

Ashley Wright is an 8th grade English teacher at Harmony Science Academy in Pflugerville.

She's also sponsor of a student-run club on campus called the "Afro-American Society."

Students at Harmony are working on projects to celebrate Black History Month: history, fashion, music, poetry.  She says an exhibit featuring a set of segregated water fountains on campus was born out of students feeling they weren't being heard.

"Just having a sign posted with information and a picture and nobody reads, they just walk by it. Having a teacher lecture or state this information about a famous scientist or poet, again nobody listens," Wright said.

So the students in the group came up with the idea of having a historical exhibit that would be thought-provoking.

Wright says this was.

"They started conversations, they started asking questions. It was the topic all day, that's what everybody was talking about,” Wright said.

Wright says some of those questions were about the very existence of signage like this during the Jim Crow era.

"What was shocking to me of some of the conversations I overheard -- some students didn't realize this," Wright said.

When Harmony parent Reese Herd II got word of the exhibit he posted about it on Facebook. 

"It felt like a know a slap in the face," Herd said.

The post got thousands of shares.

"Naturally I was very upset at the thought of something like this taking place in my son's school, especially without any conversation with adults and parents," Herd said. 

At the time, Herd also thought students who weren't complying with the signs were being punished but the school says this was never the case. 

"From my understanding from today's meeting, there were no children that were forced to drink from either side of the faucet. That was just hearsay from the students," Herd said.

Herd, along with other parents and community leaders met with the school Monday morning to discuss the exhibit. 

The issue going forward seems to be communication.  Harmony says they sent a note to parents about the water fountain exhibit at some point Friday, before the weekend. Herd says that was too late.

“I believe if the communication from the school was better from the jump we wouldn't be here today with this camera in front of my face,” Herd said.

“I believe there was a mis-communication on our side.  Parents got second-hand information, started reacting, posted to social media and then it was gone. It was nothing we could no longer do,” Wright said.

Herd has a message for the students.

“It came from a place of a parent who was upset with what was brought to his attention and what was told to him was going on in the school. I’m proud of you kids for wanting to speak your piece and speak your voice and through this I don't want you to lose that,” Herd said.

Looking at the comments on Herd’s Facebook post and the school’s post there are many who feel, despite the intent, that this was just a bad idea.