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Racism Was Main Topic Of Discussion At Saline Area Schools Community Meeting

Feb 3, 2020

Saline Area Schools hosted a community conversation on diversity, equity, and inclusion this morning after students from their district made racist comments against black people on social media last weekend.  Since it was held during the day, only parents and community members attended the meeting.  89.1 WEMU’s Jorge Avellan was there and has the story. 


"When your son is poked and called taco and enchilada…what did you bring today, Nacho?"

One after another, parents of minority students at Saline Area Schools shared how they’re children have been discriminated in the past.  Parent Adrian Iraola told a crowd of 125 parents at Liberty School that his child, who is of Mexican descent, was the victim of racist remarks at the district.  While many listened closely with tears in their eyes, at least one person was not as compassionate.  Listen closely to what a Caucasian man told Iraola while he was speaking.

Adrian: "When I went to his bedroom to say goodnight, he was crying because of all that he was enduring in the abuse that he was enduring in this school system."

White Male: "Then why didn’t you stay in Mexico?”

Crowd: "That’s indicative of what our kids are experiencing.  So this is the type of community that our kids come to school to?"

The controversial remark was made by parent Tom Burtell.  In case you missed it, he asked Iraola, “Then why didn’t you stay in Mexico?”  As you just heard, Burtell quickly ignited anger among the crowd.  Many in the crowd started crying, and one woman even held her chest as if she was going to faint.  Parent Brian Wright, who is African-American, quickly got up and made a statement.

"We’re starting to raise these young men and women to be productive members to society, but we’re accepting racist acts.  Let’s call it what it is, not micro-aggression."

Burtell brushed off criticism and added that minorities are racist against white people when they form groups like La Raza and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.  He also believes that no one was hurt by the comments made against black people on social media in January that led the district to host a community meeting to discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion.

"This training is ludicrous.  You think you’re going to change someone’s opinion that you’re white, that you’re a member of a group, that you shouldn’t defend your own group.  You defend your own group and that’s OK.  You think you can give someone a stupid class. and then they’re going to change their opinion?  Give me a break."

Jessica Goniea has children who attend Saline Area Schools.  She was one of many who gasped when Burtell made his comment.

"It shows that he is a white supremacist.  Everything he said coming after that tells me that he thinks white people are superior to every other race.  And that is not acceptable."        

I tried interviewing Burtell after the meeting, but he refused to speak with me, because he said I’m "fake news."  He responded to another reporter’s media request in the same manner.  I did speak with parent Adrian Iraola after the meeting who took the opportunity to explain what Burtell’s comment meant to him.  

"It’s not the first time that I hear that, and it hurts because it’s a sign of ignorance.  And with ignorance, there is a denial of knowledge.  Knowledge bring you acceptance"

Saline Area Schools Superintendent Scot Graden says the district already has a plan in motion to address racist incidents, such as the negative comments that were made by some of their students on social media last month. 

"We started a committee last January, so, a little over a year ago in an effort to really address some of the issues of systemic racism in our community and in our society and try to figure out ways we can improve.  And while we are working and getting a lot done and we share that with the community, clearly there’s a lot of work to do.  And a lot more we can do."

Graden added the district is still investigating the racist remarks made on social media, and while he can’t comment on specific students, usually, when an investigation takes places, students are excluded from school until the investigation is over.

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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