Protest To Be Held At Pioneer H.S. After Racial Hostile Environment Allegations Were Made

Oct 23, 2020

A Black Students Matter protest will be held Saturday, October 24th at 1 p.m. outside of Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor after a teacher was accused of creating a racial hostile environment for Black students.  

A complaint was filed with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights in August by 16-year old student Makayla Kelsey.  As part of the complaint, the district was asked to hire an independent civil rights organization to investigate the allegation and to make its findings public.  However, Makayla’s mom, Charmelle, says the district instead hired a law firm to investigate the situation and has ignored her request to create a race discrimination complaint system.

Charmelle Kelsey: They pride themselves on equity and being diverse, but when you actually see first-hand what’s going on inside the school, it’s a different story.

The complaint alleges that teacher Michele Macke has created a racial hostile environment for Black students by insulting them, and by posting grades of struggling students on a SmartBoard for all to see.  We reached out to the school board and the district for comment but did not hear back from them. 

UPDATE: Ann Arbor Public Schools sent a written statement after this story was produced and aired.  Below is the district's full statement.

In the Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS), we stand firm against any and all acts of bias, bigotry and racism.

The AAPS has received the August 24, 2020, letter from the University of Michigan Civil Rights Litigation Initiative alleging racism at Pioneer High School.  In the AAPS, we take this situation and the matters outlined in that letter very seriously.  All of us are deeply disturbed by the content of the allegations.  We are committed to a full and thorough investigation of those matters as we understand the important value each child brings and are deeply committed to equity and opportunity for each and every student we serve.

In response, we have hired the law firm of Dykema Gossett to conduct a full and independent investigation of the matters set forth in the letter.  No findings or conclusions have been reached, as it is very early in the investigation.

In addition, we take very seriously any and all concerns shared regarding racist attitudes and practices that exist anywhere in our AAPS organization, and we will ensure consistent and thorough processes for hearing and addressing concerns.  We recognize that reporting requires courage and that it is critically important that students, staff and community members have a safe place to openly share their concerns and experiences. 

We encourage any member of our student body, staff, families and community who is aware of any concerns to reach out to our AAPS Helpline at 734-545-2321, hosted by Dr. Eaddy-Richardson, a competent, caring and respected counselor and advocate in the Ann Arbor community.  In this way, we will be sure that all in our community have access to a professional who will listen in confidence and support with communicating concerns.  This Helpline is a safe place where individuals can reach for support beyond the classroom and school.

A prior Superintendent statement from August 26th regarding the commitment of the AAPS to anti-racism and equity-centered practices is here; a Superintendent statement from June 3rd is here.

We are committed to address all situations of racism that may arise, without fear, so that our black and brown children, and all students, are fully supported.  We want all students to have every benefit to learn and thrive in our schools and so that all children are educated in inclusive and supportive classroom and school environments.  The work to eliminate racist attitudes and practices in the AAPS is both a moral obligation required of each of us individually, as well as a collective imperative in our organization and across our community.  In the AAPS, we are committed to carrying this work forward for every child and in every classroom across our system.

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— Jorge Avellan is a reporter for 89.1 WEMU News. Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him javellan@emich.edu