By Teodoro Gammons (‘23), Elaina Jehangir (‘25), Jaxson Kaplan-Rudolph (‘25)
On November 8th, the Bloomfield Hills High School administration were made aware of racist posts and messages made by students circling around social media. These provocative posts caused great distress within the community, and several students reported these messages to school administrators. Two days later, Mr. Hollerith, principal of Bloomfield Hills High School, sent out an email to all families, acknowledging the harm that was caused by these posts.
Unfortunately, following the threatening social media posts aimed at black students, hate speech was written on the bathroom walls. Found by a student, this speech caused anxiety throughout the school. The administration quickly responded by sending an email out to students, parents, and staff in Bloomfield Hills, recognizing the “reprehensible” message and stating that “the district will continue to prioritize the need to be proactive and responsive to hate speech.” The email cited the importance of the school community supporting each other.
However, students were disillusioned by the perceived lack of action taken by the school with regards to these incidents, despite the district immediately opening a police investigation for each piece of hate speech. The reason is due to FERPA, specific punishments may not be publicly released creating a vicious cycle where students become mad at perceived inaction, prompting emails, prompting anger at perceived inaction. After seeing the threats written on the bathroom walls, several students immediately started to take action. A walkout was planned to peacefully protest against the perceived inaction.
When asked about the goal of the walkout, a student stated that “All we want is for justice to be served, and violence is not the answer. This has gone far too long unnoticed, and it is time to take action.” Despite good intentions, when the walkout was recognized by the school over the loudspeaker, rumors were spread of threats of violence and guns around the school creating a lot of panic and prompting many sympathetic students to head home. Even still, many students chose to remain anyway. BHHS freshman, Brendan Randall stated “I was aware of the gun threats at the protest, however, I also know that when people gather together for a common cause there are some individuals that really try to dissuade people from taking a stand. I believe the protest was meant to demonstrate that the student body as a whole is tired of how our administration handles conflicts of race. This is a great first step but more work definitely needs to be done.”
On November 16th, the Bloomfield Hills School District held a “Community Collaboration Event,” to allow students and parents to address the recent acts of racial hate and offensive graffiti within the school. Bloomfield Hills superintendent Patrick Watson and Principal Hollerith, opened the event with an apology for students and families that were harmed by these acts. Following this, diversity consultants and event attendees collaborated to instill racial healing in the community. During this event, an anonymous student made the following statement: “I’m a freshman here at the high school, and ever since I started, I have been disgusted by the mismanagement of so many situations… I’m just appalled at what happened and how awfully it is being managed, as well as how little is being told to students and parents, and how much the school district seemingly wants to sweep under the rug.” Again, caused by the school’s necessity to balance FERPA compliance and putting the district in a bind. Furthermore, it is extremely difficult to identify perpetrators as there are no cameras in the school bathrooms, leading to a list of suspects, but no solid proof to warrant action against any of them.
In addition to the racial prejudice witnessed inside the school, students also acknowledged the hate speech towards members of the LGBT community during the BHHS homecoming dance and spoke out about the lack of repercussions for these actions. During the community collaboration event, one student expressed their frustration stating: “I already spoke, so I’ll try my best to be as brief as possible. I want to say that I am also severely disappointed in the lack of any punishment for such actions. During the homecoming dance, I saw exactly what happened, I saw the person who was spitting at us, I saw the person who was barking at us, I heard slurs hurled at us, and we had to leave early. Days later, after I and a few friends had reported the people who did it, I saw them in school again on Wednesday, seemingly uncaring, unchanged, without regret, after what was likely only a two day suspension, if not less. Things like this should have no tolerance within the school, and incur harsher punishments, and it is because of things like this that I have difficulty publicly embracing my identity and showing who I am.”
Despite these efforts by admin, more graffiti was found written on the bathroom walls of Bloomfield Hills High School. Superintendent Watson and Principal Hollerith promptly released an email to all Bloomfield students and parents a few hours after the hate speech was found, detailing that there would be an increased police presence at the school and an investigation conducted by said officers. “Emails cannot capture our outrage and anger regarding further harm to our community by one of our own students,” wrote Watson in one fiery sentence.
On November 18th, 2021, the Bloomfield Hills Board of Education held a meeting. During the public comment portion of the meeting, many concerns were raised from a large majority of Black parents who had attended. These comments lasted a little over an hour, and all of the parents in attendance were extremely impassioned by the events that transpired during the past two weeks, even acknowledging hate that occurred long before. Frequent concerns that were raised were the safety of their children, the safety of all students who attend Bloomfield Hills High School, and how the administration was handling the situation as a whole. Personal anecdotes, such as one parent asserting that their children had been threatened by another parent and that the district and police department had done nothing, were common and highlighted the extent of grievances parents had towards the school. Afterward, acting Board President, Jennifer Matlow, started her report, asserting that they have “not fought hard enough” in many instances and outlined a plan to create forums in Bloomfield Hills Schools to better represent the student body and to combat bigotry. After some discussion, the Student Equity Council came to the stand and presented a hate incident response procedure they hope the district will implement. Afterward, they fiercely stated that the responsibility of writing such a plan should not have fallen on their shoulders, calling for the Board to take responsibility. Equity Council co-President, Jaanaki Radakrishnan believes that “though the admin is addressing things on a case by case basis, there is not a comprehensive response to the deeper problem. They are treating it symptomatically.”
At the end of this tumultuous period for the district, on November 19th, a family of an anonymous student filed a $150 million federal class-action lawsuit alleging a pattern of “racist, unfair, hurtful, and at times dangerous interactions at BHHS at the hands of both White staff and students.” However, as the lawsuit must prove the high standard of gross negligence on the part of the district, it will most likely be dismissed before ever receiving a hearing. Assuming it meets this burden, litigation will take years and at much expense.
When Board Intern Leena Jandali was asked what her community stands for, she said “BH tries to foster an environment of equity and inclusion, that is not a quick sprint, it’s not easy, but what the Bloomfield community needs to do now is actively try to work towards that.” She hopes “that Thanksgiving break gives our school the opportunity to heal.” It remains to be seen whether that calm will last.