ANN ARBOR, MI – A group of parents are asking Ann Arbor Public Schools to open an external investigation into alleged equity issues and the educational climate at Pioneer High School.

The group, Ann Arbor School Parents Intent on Racial Equity, said it’s committed to advancing racial equity within the district, according to parent Rita Simpson-Vlach, who spoke on behalf of the group during the Wednesday, Sept. 30, Ann Arbor School Board meeting.

In addition to an external investigation of the climate at Pioneer “with concrete recommendations and action items,” the group asks the district to:

  • Remove a Pioneer High School teacher alleged to have created an unsafe environment
  • Develop a bias incident reporting system for students, faculty and staff by early November
  • Comply with requests by the University of Michigan Civil Rights Litigation Initiative

Black students have a right to a fair, nurturing and healthy learning environment, Simpson-Vlach said, adding that parents are “deeply saddened at the blatant disregard and inaction that has been reported by Black students at Pioneer High School.”

“Our scholars–the future leaders of our world and our community – continue to confront unnecessary emotional stressors and preventable trauma due to systemic racism that persists within our schools,” Simpson-Vlach said in a statement co-signed by 20 parents from across the district. “Failure to create a safe space for students of color and other vulnerable individuals within the educational system is oppressive and prevents young scholars from reaching their full potential.”

The request from parents comes after a Black high school student filed a complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights alleging she and other Black students face a racially hostile environment at Pioneer High School.

Black student alleges racially hostile environment at Ann Arbor high school in civil rights complaint

The complaint was filed in late August in conjunction with a 14-page letter describing in detail the alleged racism the student and other Black students have faced at the school, and how it has interfered with their education. Another complaint was filed by a Pioneer student with the U.S. Department of Education alleging a teacher’s violations of Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

The student is represented by the Civil Rights Litigation Initiative at the University of Michigan Law School, which interviewed numerous current and former Black Pioneer High students and students of color before filing the complaint on Aug. 24.

The district continues to “stand strong against any and all acts of bias, bigotry and racism,” Ann Arbor Public Schools Superintendent Jeanice Swift said during the board meeting.

“We take every allegation of racist attitudes and practices that are going on anywhere in our AAPS organization very seriously and we ensure consistent processes for hearing and addressing those concerns,” Swift said. “Our processes include consistently and thoroughly investigating complaints, ensuring that we learn from situations by clarifying and implementing any needed improvements.”

Ann Arbor Public Schools did not respond to additional questions about whether an investigation into the school has been initiated.

In February, students petitioned that teacher Michele Macke, be removed at Pioneer, arguing she’s created an unsafe environment.

Some were unhappy Macke was allowed back in the classroom after a student was grabbed by the arm while trying to retrieve an assignment she missed, leading the teacher to being temporarily put on leave.

Students raise issue with Pioneer High School teacher who grabbed student’s arm

Despite a police investigation that resulted in no charges being authorized by the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office, students believe the incident was an example of the teacher’s inappropriate handling of a Black student in the classroom.

In a letter describing the alleged racist acts, the student and other Pioneer students detail alleged racism experienced at the school, including how Macke:

  • Insulted Black students and their parents in front of the class.
  • Humiliated Black students who are struggling in math by putting their grades on a “Smart Board” for all to see in violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
  • Is hostile to students who are members of the Black Student Union as well as its faculty advisors.
  • Uses coded language against Black students, calling them “criminals” and “delinquents.”
  • Refused to bring her class to the Black History Month assembly because it was a “waste of time” and complained that it didn’t focus enough on how white people made contributions to Black people
  • Touched Black students in a hostile manner without their consent.

Macke could not be reached for comment on Friday, Oct. 2.

During Wednesday’s board meeting, Swift said it’s not always possible for the district to report publicly on the outcome or the processes regarding personnel matters.

Simpson-Vlach alleges Macke has a history of ignoring, insulting and mistreating Black students, creating barriers that interfere directly with the education of those entrusted to her care. The parent group believes Macke is unfit to teach and tarnishes the reputation of the school district., Simpson-Vlach said.

“Such damaging behavior is witnessed by other students, who look to teachers as role models; the ripple effects of allowing this kind of teacher in our schools without censure reach far beyond the students targeted directly by her actions,” she said. “We cannot sit idly by and allow a teacher to continue with this kind of behavior.”

Regarding the request for a bias incident reporting system, AASPIRE is asking that monthly reports be made to district leadership and the school board.

The complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights has been successfully filed and processed and is awaiting the assignment of representatives to conduct an outside investigation into the happenings at Pioneer, UM Civil Rights Litigation Initiative student attorney Martese Johnson said.

The litigation initiative supports the parents’ list of demands, Johnson said.

“Our hope is that this investigation will thoroughly explore our (client’s) experience of racial discrimination and the larger racially hostile environment that we believe exists within the school,” Johnson said.

“We hope that students and community members will speak out about their experiences of disparate treatment on the (basis) of their unique identities. This is investigation is an opportunity for long awaited progressive change for Pioneer and AAPS’s most underserved communities.”

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