The committee that invited a Durham city council member to speak as part of a Black History Month celebration at  the Immaculata Catholic School is “stunned, frustrated and extremely disappointed” that council member Vernetta Alston’s invitation was rescinded and the school closed altogether amid reports of protests against her appearance.

As an Immaculata alum, Alston had been invited to speak as part of the school’s Black History Month program during an event today centered on influential African-American women. Alston, who is openly gay, was elected to the council in 2017 and worked for the Center for Death Penalty Litigation.

Instead, the school is closed today.

“We were planning to kick off our celebrations for Black History Month, which means so much to all of us each year, at Friday Morning Prayer,” Immaculata Pastor Christopher VanHaight wrote to school parents. “Regrettably, I understand from a variety of reports that a number of groups are planning demonstrations at our school that day, to register their respective opinions regarding Vernetta Alston, an Immaculata alumna and Durham City Council member who initially had been listed as one of the event speakers. As pastor, I cannot place our Immaculata students into this contentious environment.”

In response, Alston issued a statement saying that while she “will not deny the positive experience I had at Immaculata nor the talented and caring people who are a part of that community today,” the church’s decision sends “a sad, regressive, and life-altering message to our children – that the voices and experiences of those within the Black community can be cancelled and that inclusion is not valued by some who are charged with shaping their character.”— Vernetta Alston (@vernettalstonNC) February 8, 2019

The school’s African-American Heritage Committee released a statement today saying they remain committed to bringing Alston to the school because “our children need to hear her message.”  The committee writes that the decision to cancel Alston’s appearance over “threats made by outside religious extremists” is out of step with the community’s values.

Our fight continues to bring @vernettalstonNC to Immaculata and to end bigotry of any kind, raise our children in the light of love and to walk the path of kindness and compassion. #WeStandWithVernetta #TeamVernetta #LoveIsLove— Kaaren Haldeman (@Kaargav) February 8, 2019