UPDATE (11/22/16): Royal Oak Schools today issued the following statement denying allegations, as described in the ACLU letter, that a teacher asked an African-American student to emulate how slaves danced for their masters: "An investigation regarding the allegation involving a staff member found that the allegation as contained in the letter dated November 17, 2016, did not have merit."
DETROIT—In response to a now-viral video that captured Royal Oak Middle School students hurling racial taunts a day after the presidential election, the ACLU of Michigan today sent a letter to the superintendent of Royal Oak Schools calling for an apology to offended students and discipline for any school personnel who fail to appropriately address bigotry.
The letter to Royal Oak Schools superintendent Shawn Lewis-Lakin—which prompted a swift and positive reply—also urges the district to diversify its curricula to be more racially inclusive and to implement a restorative practices program that will allow school officials to use such incidents as “teachable moments” aimed at ameliorating tensions and creating empathy for targeted students.
“As abhorrent, hurtful and wrong as this kind of action is, we don’t think children should be demonized for this sort of behavior, especially when it’s likely that they’re just repeating what they’ve heard at campaign rallies, on the news or in their own homes,” said Mark Fancher, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan’s Racial Justice Project. “We think the district has an obligation to show these children the harm in their actions and to teach the importance and value of respecting the history and culture of others.”
Fancher praised Lewis-Lakin for reaching out to the ACLU shortly after receiving the letter.
“We are very pleased the superintendent responded immediately to our letter and expressed a sincere commitment to addressing the problems. The ACLU of Michigan looks forward to working with him and the school district in any way we can.”
The letter comes on the heels of a post-election incident in which a group of students in the Royal Oak Middle School cafeteria began to loudly chant, “Build that wall,” a reference to President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign promises to deport millions of immigrants and build a wall along the US-Mexico border.
The chanting was captured on a cellphone video taken by a 12-year-old Latina student at the school. The video was posted to YouTube shortly thereafter and has since been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.
The ACLU letter urges the superintendent to adopt its recommendations in the name of fostering a learning environment free from hostility and discrimination.
“Taking these steps may be a challenge,” the letter reads, “but they will be very helpful to the rehabilitation of the racial climate in your school district. The circumstances are grave and the stakes are high. Of greatest concern are the students who have suffered and continue to suffer humiliation and embarrassment as a result of racist acts and statements.”
The letter is signed by Fancher, ACLU of Michigan Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg and ACLU of Michigan Field Director Rodd Monts.