Impacts of racial incidents in Michigan schools

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Race is a topic on the minds of many Americans.

The Barna Group, an evangelical Christian polling firm, reports 84 percent of adults believe a lot of hostility exists between ehnic and racial groups in the U.S.

In Michigan, racial and ethnic anger is also seen in the school systems. An issue in schools is racial rhetoric and bullying in the classrooms, said David Crim, spokesman of the Michigan Education Association.

There has been an increase in race-related bullying reported to the MEA, and Crim believes the increase has occurred due to Donald Trump.

“A lot of teachers are reporting on ‘the Trump effect,’ which is incendiary rhetoric coming from the moment he started running,” Crim said.

Since the beginning of the campaign, there have been instances of events, like circling Latino students and chanting “build the wall” and racist graffiti.

One particular event that garnered national media attention was that of a Royal Oak middle school, where students in the lunchroom chanted, “Build that wall.”

Crim says it is a learned perspective.

“This is coming from the top of our government, and in some cases the homes of some of these students,” Crim said. “It’s a learned value; you know, if what Trump is saying is accepted around them, students will act on that,”

Crim said teachers have altered what they teach in the classroom.

“It’s been very difficult because teachers have had to take time to create these lesson plans around acceptance and inclusivity.”

Dr. Jeffery Thoenes, principal of Williamston High School, believes national rhetoric has an effect as well.

“Children and students look up to us, and in this current climate, it’s more important than ever to act with integrity and compassion,” he said.

This is something that the State Board of Education has been monitoring as well, said Casandra Ulbrich, co-president of the board.

“We’ve had the civil rights commission come and talk to us, we have updated our model anti-bullying policy and are in the process of updating our model code of conduct, because of the new landscape,” Ulbrich said.

“The superintendent of the state did release a joint statement saying that there is acceptable behavior and students need to feel safe,” Ulbrich said.

Because Michigan is a local control state, Ulbrich said the board is focused more on policy and bigger picture issues in terms of race, like the Schools of Choice policy.

“Several of us are concerned about impact of Schools Choice policy in the state, and feel it has dramatically exacerbated that issue,” Ulbrich said.

Schools of Choice, as defined by the Michigan Department of Education, provides students with additional enrollment opportunities, which range from allowing students to determine which school within the resident district they will enroll, to allowing non-resident students to enroll in a district other than their own.

Ulbrich said this has created uneven, unstable environments.

Michigan’s generous School of Choice policy has caused an increase of “white flight,” with white parents moving their children to whiter districts, and black students moving to almost all black charter schools, according to an analysis done by the Center of Michigan.

Increased segregation may lead to increased racism, according to the report.


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