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Collaboration for Change

Collaboration for Change

By Jennifer Kalafut, Communications Intern

In the 2021-2022 school year, MDCR was actively engaged in responding to a number of prominently reported acts of bias and hate in Michigan schools. Media outlets have reported on these incidents with titles like, "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 the problems we are seeing in schools and with 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]," said Lewis. "Lots [of action and change] has happened because of videos. Students want to grab the 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 these incidents?

Earlier this spring, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel was contacted by parents of Bloomfield Hills High School students who asked for assistance in response to incidents of racial discrimination in that school district. From there, Attorney General Nessel reached out to Executive Director John E. Johnson, Jr., to collaborate and provide education to the community.

The first collaborative effort to address school bias took place virtually, addressing the community of West Bloomfield. The forum served as an opportunity to answer questions such as: What is hate speech? What is the school's responsibility? When do these behaviors become a civil rights issue?

Education is the key for students to be able to grow up in fulfilling and safe environments. Lewis elaborates that schools need training, however it is up to them to them to get it. MDCR cannot control what the school does, and the Attorney General can only lead an investigation if it is criminal. What needs to happen is reframing the role parents and school district personnel need to play in these situations. They 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, we need to understand what rights we hold and follow through with holding others responsible.

Future forums like the one with West Bloomfield will allow individuals to be equipped with the knowledge they need to feel empowered to hold others accountable and to effectively advocate for themselves. Long term goals for this collaborative engagement include encouraging schools to take the steps necessary to help ensure discrimination and bias does not persist in their districts.

There is no firm timeline for future collaborative forums, though the partners are discussing hosting additional forums throughout the year.

Tony Lewis calls the effort "…an excellent collaboration; having both partners shows the importance of the issues that we are addressing, tells the community that they have resources while showing how important accountability is to us and therefore how important it should be to them."

We will bring you news of additional collaborative community forums on bias and hate in schools as they are scheduled.