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MDCR Organizational Chart
MDCR and AG Nessel: Collaboration for Change
By Jennifer Kalafut, Communications Intern
Over the past three months, it appears that there has been an increase in reports of bias and hate in various Michigan school districts. Media outlets have reported on a variety of incidents, with stories titled: “Racist taunt in Fowlerville is another in a series involving Michigan high school athletics”, “Farmington Hills Teacher Removed After Racial Slur Toward Student”, and “LGBTQ students are ‘under attack,’ says Michigan teacher who quit over removal of pride flag”.
Anthony Lewis, Director of Community Engagement, explained that these problems and gaps in responses from schools and administrators are not new.
“Our students are understanding their power and realize they can use their voice or social media to talk about [these occurrences]. Lots [of action and change has] happened because of videos. Students want to grab local media's attention because they are fed up with teachers and administrators who are just trying to protect the school's image.”
So, what is MDCR doing about it?
Attorney General Dana Nessel was contacted by Bloomfield Hills High School asking for assistance after incidents of racial discrimination on their campus. From there, Attorney General Nessel reached out to Executive Director John E. Johnson, Jr., to collaborate and provide education to the community.
The collaboration between the AG’s office and MDCR on hate and bias in schools has led to a series of virtual community forums. The first one focused on the West Bloomfield community. These forums serve as an opportunity to answer questions from parents and community members, such as: What is the school’s responsibility? What is hate speech? When does civil rights come into play?
Education is key for our students to be able to grow up in fulfilling and safe environments. Lewis elaborates that schools need training; however, it is up to them if they get it. MDCR cannot impose training or control what the school does, and the Attorney General can only lead an investigation if there has been a criminal offense. According to Anthony, what needs to happen is a reframing of the role of parents and school districts: each must be willing to demand accountability. The community needs to hold the school board accountable and the board needs to oversee superintendents. To prevent future instances of bias and discrimination, students, parents and school districts need to understand what rights we hold and follow through with holding others responsible.
These collaborative community forums will help equip people with the knowledge they need to feel empowered to hold others responsible and effectively advocate for themselves. Long term, the forums may even encourage schools to take steps so these acts of hate and bias do not persist into the future.
We could even see further development of rational conversations on race and racism in districts, similar to the Governor’s budget recommendation for money to fund investigation of Native American Boarding Schools in Michigan. Engaging with and helping educate communities where these incidents occur may increase support for efforts to improve understanding, cultural competence and possibly reduce bias incidents.
There is no hard-and-fast timeline for when and where these forums will take place. With the goal of educating and encouraging communities, the plan is to host forums throughout the year to give this idea space and to examine its effectiveness. The next forum will be held in Ann Arbor in April.
Lewis calls this effort “an excellent collaboration.”
“Having both partners shows the importance of the issues that we are addressing and shows the community that they have resources, while showing how important accountability is to us and therefore how important it should be to them.”