Black students say Ann Arbor Pioneer High School allows racially hostile environment, institutional racism

A Black high school student in Ann Arbor has filed a complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights claiming she and other Black students face a racially hostile environment at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor.

According to a press release from the Civil Rights Litigation Initiative (CRLI), a clinic at the University of Michigan Law School, the school was sent a letter that outlined racism that Pioneer junior Makayla Kelsey and other students have experienced.

The letter primarily claims math teacher Michele Macke humiliates and insults students who are struggling while also called a Black History Month assembly a 'waste of time':

  • Insults Black students and their parents in front of the class
  • Humiliates Black students who are struggling in math by putting their grades on the Smart Board for all to see in violation of the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act
  • Is hostile to students who are members of the Black Student Union as well as its faculty advisors
  • Uses coded language against Black students such as calling them "criminals" and "delinquents"
  • Refused to bring her class to the Black History Month assembly because it was a "waste of time" and complained that it didn't focus enough on how white people made contributions to Black people
  • Touches Black students in a hostile manner without their consent.

This isn't the first time Macke has been accused of poorly treating Black students at the school. In February, the Black Student Union petitioned the school to remove her from the school.

"High school is hard enough without being bullied by teachers," said Kelsey. "All students, not just white students, deserve a welcoming and supportive environment." 

Kelsey is represented by the CRLI, which interviewed numerous current and former Pioneer Black students and students of color before filing the complaint. 

"This summer, an ever-increasing array of Americans are realizing what Black Americans have always known: this country has spent generations institutionalizing racism in every facet of American life, including education," said CRLI student attorney, Liza Davis. "We call on Pioneer to listen to the brave students who have come forward to tell their stories, and to rectify the vile racism pervading its environment. Black Lives Matter." 

The issues the CRLI claims are not isolated to Macke. The CRLI asserts that "racism at Pioneer is institutional and not limited to a few individuals. Indeed, it was distressing to hear how many Black students and students of color felt that they were treated as second class citizens." 

Of the students surveyed, Black students said there was unequal treatment in the following ways:

  • An exercise in an economics class requiring students to play an online game to see who could own the most slaves, which needlessly distressed the Black students in the class
  • The harsher punishment of Black students for doing the same thing as their white classmates
  • Unequal enforcement of the dress code by teachers and hall monitors, particularly against young Black women, who were made to feel ashamed of their bodies
  • Discriminatory treatment of the Black Student Union and other predominantly Black organizations.

The CRLI urges Ann Arbor Public Schools to hire a civil rights organization to take multiple steps to address the issues by hiring a civil rights organization to review the racial climate at the school and determine if the curriculum is "culturally responsive" to Black students, and whether the faculty and staff reflect the racial and cultural diversity of the school.

The CRLI is also calling for a Race Discrimination Complaint system and encourage students to use it. The CRLI said there is no system in the school and claims through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, the school wanted to "sweep issues of race discrimination under the rug rather than addressing them."

Lastly, the CRLI wants the school the terminate Ms. Macke's employment at the school.

In response to the accusations, AAPS released this statement to FOX 2: 

"The Ann Arbor Public Schools does not comment on personnel matters or pending litigation."