A recent incident in Fowlerville has drawn renewed attention to the issue of race relations in Livingston County schools. Michigan civil rights officials say some districts are seeking to engage on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, but they are choosing to do so quietly to try and avoid the types of disruptions seen in the past year at various school board meetings in the traditionally conservative area.
On Jan. 27, during a boys’ basketball game at Fowlerville High School, fans sitting in the student section made what were described as “loud monkey motions and sounds” directed at Black players with Haslett High School, while parents of one of the Haslett players alleged their son and his teammates were subjected to racial slurs by players during the game.
Fowlerville Superintendent Wayne Roedel previously confirmed for the Michigan Advance that a white player made a “racist remark to a Haslett player that was unacceptable.” He added that their findings and “sincerest apologies” were shared with the Haslett administration and that those students involved would face consequences, although he did not elaborate as those involved are minors.
It is just the latest incident that has highlighted racial tensions in the county’s schools. In March 2021, 18-year-old Tatayana Vanderlaan posted to Facebook about repeated incidents she said she had endured at Hartland High School, including being called the n-word and being ridiculed about her hair and her appearance. After that post went viral, Vanderlaan said she had to be escorted off campus due to a threat of being lynched. Four students were later charged in that case with various counts, including stalking and assault and battery. As those charges were filed in the juvenile court system, the outcome of those cases remains shielded from the public.
The incident also prompted the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) to reach out to the district and arrange for a visit by their Community Engagement Team “to assist in evaluating their policies and to offer training help.’’ Following that visit, the Hartland Board of Education created a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee to examine policies, practices, and procedures to ensure that they were not negatively impacting the learning environment.
However, the committee quickly received pushback from some parents in the district, who turned out at board meetings alleging the c
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