Keys. Laptop. Badge. These were the three items Claude Hogan was unsuspectingly ordered to hand over the day he was placed on administrative leave.
This came as a shock to Hogan, who was the supervisor for a student athletic development program and has worked at the Lansing School District, or LSD, since 2015. All he was told was that he had breached a policy. Nearly six months later, he still hasn’t been told which policy he breached, nor was he given an exit interview, which he said violates district policy.
Hogan–who is now seeking legal representation–claims he was intimidated, coerced and pushed out of the district, a grievance echoed by some 60 fellow Black LSD educators. This is one of the many allegations of racism, unprofessionalism and disparity concerns currently shrouding the district.
Robert Kolt, a public relations consultant for LSD, declined to comment on Hogan’s resignation or any of the accusations levied against the district. He responded through email with a link to a recording of the board of education’s Oct. 26 meeting.
“Mass Exodus” of Educators
In the summer of 2022, Hogan created a student development program focused around athletic training. With around 25-40 participants per day, the project allowed students to choose from five different areas of sport performance, including basketball, speed and movement, volleyball, weight training and tutoring.
However, due to disagreements about program logistics, from its creation to Hogan’s departure, he said he felt ignored, disrespected and belittled by his superiors and co-workers.
“On several occasions I was treated unfairly,” Hogan said. “I was being excluded and bullied and it caused me to be depressive and lose interest in the one thing I love and would have done for free: giving kids an opportunity at a better life through sport development training.”
One of these apparent transgressions was when the director of health, with whom Hogan had multiple disagreements, introduced him to a colleague as “the poster child for adult ADD.”
Simultaneously, Hogan was under investigation for a disciplinary occurrence with a student. He believes his superiors severely exaggerated details of the event, even fabricating certain elements that he claims are not in his character or dialect.
“It’s as if they were building something on me to paint me as some angry employee,” Hogan said. “They said I said I’d beat a kid up and called them the N-word. They said I yelled. They said I screamed and said, ‘what do you want to do, you little N-word?’ I don’t talk like that. I don’t even say the N-word.”
Following this, Hogan wrote an addendum stating the investigation was poorly conducted and he never signed any documents regarding its truth. A culmination of his experiences led him to file a grievance with human resources.
On April 20, the investigation was opened, and on May 15, he was handed a document stating he was put on paid administrative leave for violating a non-disciplinary district policy. He believes this is the result of him speaking out about his experiences, pushing back on certain disagreements and filing that grievance.
“If you don’t play their game, they don’t want you there,” Hogan said. “You’re going to cost the district money and open a Pandora’s box. Then all of them will be held accountable.”
On May 25, he resigned due to concerns of being fired, further intimidation by LSD and his own mental wellbeing.
“I knew I had to strongly consider resigning and leaving a dream position, as being fired was not something I wanted on my resume or file if I decided to look for employment elsewhere,” he said. “The fear of what the LSD executives and administrators would lie about concerned me greatly as I felt bullied and targeted.
“I sent my resignation letter via email to Mark Manley, Director of Human Resources on May 25, 2023 at 11:04 a.m. I received no reply, no exit interview as stated in district policy.”
Hogan then decided to pursue his records and claims he was given “the runaround.” He was originally told he had to fill out a FOIA request. He was then told he incorrectly filled it out.
Months passed and he eventually retrieved his file which included the student discipline investigation and even his forged signature on files–but his addendum and grievance were missing.
“Do I think race played a part in mine and others’ stories? I think it did,” Hogan said. “They hire Black teachers to not look racist. If those Black folks don’t get on board with them, they get pushed away. That’s racist and discriminatory to me.”
On Nov. 3, Hogan reported that his position was filled by a white colleague of a co-worker who he believes was given special treatment and privileges throughout the student development program’s duration. He claims this is rooted in nepotism, and therefore violates district policy.
“The hiring is a possibility of why I was coerced to resign as well,” he said. “There is racial discrimination, and I will be documenting this action on their part and sending it to the NAACP.”
Hogan says losing those he calls innovative and highly effective teachers can have damaging and long-lasting effects.
“I believe that all of us that were pushed out truly loved those kids,” he said. “The impact is unfathomable, honestly. It destroys generations.”
One Love Global’s Demands
This is not the first time LSD has been criticized for equity and racial justice shortcomings. In 2022, a district audit found numerous issues for people of color in the district including:
- A lack of equitable opportunities for gifted or honors courses
- Black students being more likely to be suspended than white students
- Teachers of color feeling pressured, or culturally taxed, to pick up the slack from white colleagues to discuss race in the classroom
One Love Global, an organization that advocates for racial equity and offers guidance and leadership in affected communities, was asked to provide support to educators coming forward with allegations and the students the disparities could impact.
Sean Holland, the director of transformational leadership at One Love Global, has voiced concerns at multiple board meetings and believes the board must take accountability for these disparities.
“We’ve reached a very critical moment in the district,” Holland said. “We’ve been talking and elevating these issues, but have not gotten the transparency from the district. The voices of those who are mostly impacted have not been fully considered.”
In response to these findings, and to what Holland calls a “mass exodus of educators,” One Love Global issued its response and demands to the LSD Board on Oct. 30.
Regarding the past alleged discriminatory issues, the letter called for:
- Thorough investigations of all claims or discriminatory applications of policies and toxic work environments
- A public audit of exit interviews the board claimed to have collected
- A continuity in tenures and retrieval of any back pay in salary or stipends owed during terminations or coerced resignations
- Comprehensive data regarding the number of educators who have left the district–whether by resignation, termination, or administrative leave–over the past year
“We’re not talking about a few disgruntled,” Holland said. “We’re talking about hardcore data. We’re talking about egregious policy and procedures that have been totally violated.”
The letter also demanded changes to prevent future discriminatory actions such as addressing pay disparities for BIPOC teachers and educators and “creating a clear mechanism for reporting discrimination or harassment cases.”
One of Holland’s primary concerns is how students’ futures could be impacted by disparity and equity issues, and notes that, for Black students, having Black educators could boost overall success.
“They’ve not been able to recruit Black educators that mirror the student body,” Holland said. “If you get passionate, credentialed Black educators in a district, behavior goes down, suspensions go down, reading goes up and academic performance goes up. Whenever there is representation in a classroom, all of these issues drastically change. The data proves it.”
The District’s Response Thus Far
At the board of education’s Oct. 26 meeting, weeks after dozens of Black educators such as Hogan first accused LSD of unfair and racist treatment, administrators from the district presented a plan to improve minority representation and faculty retention.
Before the presentation, LSD Superintendent Ben Shuldiner commented that while the presentation would discuss broad topics of diversity and retention, “conversations” were still ongoing about certain individuals.
“I don’t want anybody to think that this conversation or this presentation negates any of the conversations we’ve been having about individual members,” Shuldiner said. “Every human being has their story and their truth (…) and you have to listen to that and you have to take it for what it’s worth.”
The presentation, led by district COO Kristina Tokar, outlined recent growths in the number of Black, Hispanic and multiracial teachers and administrators. Additionally, the presentation showcased how LSD is attempting to diversify its applicant pools and support educators currently working in the district.
Using data from MI School Data, Michigan’s official source for education data, Tokar shared the following information comparing the racial diversity of teachers in the district from 2018 to 2023.
- The percentage of Black teachers rose from 10.59% to 10.67%
- The percentage of white teachers fell from 82.04% to 77.87%
- The percentage of Hispanic teachers rose from 3.62% to 6.19%
- The percentage of multiracial teachers rose from 0.90% to 2.11%
During the presentation, Shuldiner paused to mention that although the district is “really, really thrilled” to see a 70% and 134% increase in Hispanic and multicultural teachers respectively, he recognizes that their actual numbers, 47 and 16 apiece, are “still small.”
Currently, as pointed out by board member Caitlin Cavanagh, white teachers are 3.4 times overrepresented relative to students. Black and Hispanic teachers are 3.5 and 3.3 times underrepresented respectively.
Additionally, Tokar presented data belonging to the district which showed that since 2021, six teachers, one Black and five white, have been terminated. Hogan, however, claims this data is misrepresenting the reality of the situation.
“They cover it up by saying they resigned, but they’ve got to mention the coercion to resign,” Hogan said. “They’ve been bullied and pushed out and intimidated and resigned.”
According to internal data presented at the meeting, since July 1, 2021, Black teachers have made up 10% of resignations. However, the district did not share the actual number of teachers who have resigned.
Shuldiner said that, although the district is proud of its increasing diversity among students, faculty and staff, he recognizes how much the district must improve to meet its goals.
“We fully acknowledge that we have a long road to go,” Shuldiner said. “That this district has a history, has decades and generations of a past, and that the best we can do is to think about where we are and how we can move forward.”