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'It's unacceptable'

Krystle Wagner • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:23 PM

About 40 parents, other members of the community and school district staff attended the forum led by the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance.

The high school is being investigated by local agencies and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights following incidents involving KKK-like apparel and a racial slur written on a school bus.

To read what we obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request regarding the racism investigation, CLICK HERE.

During the forum, Grand Haven senior Hannah Hughes questioned why programs addressing racism didn’t start sooner. She said she first heard about the incidents more than five months ago.

Since news broke of the ongoing investigations, Hughes said she has become sickened by the responses of peers who have become fixated on being associated with racial incidents.

“I don’t even want to tell people this is my school,” said Hughes, 18.

The incidents infuriated Grand Haven resident Vicki Lynn Nelson. She demanded to know why they continued for four or five months before the community became informed. Nelson said actions weren’t taken quickly enough and questioned if that’s what her tax dollars went toward.

“I’m so stunned,” she said with anger in her voice. “Why has this gone on for months? Why is this auditorium so empty?”

As community members expressed concerns about programming and ongoing efforts to promote positive behavior, Grand Haven Area Public Schools Superintendent Keith Konarska said the district is working with the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance to create additional programming.

Embrace is a program recently formed as a joint effort for the community to join together over the issue.

“It’s time for everyone to stand up and be part of a solution,” Konarska said.

Tammie Hughes, a mother of children in Grand Haven schools, said the issue needs to spread beyond the high school because the hatred is learned somewhere. The Grand Haven resident called for administrators to hand out stiffer punishments because students should learn their mouths are weapons — just like guns or knives.

“It’s unacceptable for anybody to be treated this way,” Hughes said.

Lisa Hall, mother of biracial student Katie Bridgeforth who was harassed on a school bus, said she has been touched by the community’s support. However, Hall said the district needs to “step up to the plate” and take action.

Hall also called for strict punishment for the perpetrators.

“The psychological damage to my daughter will never go away,” she said.

While some parents said they want more action from the school district, Brian Wheeler, a contracted technology employee for Grand Haven schools, said it will take more than the school to make a change.

Wheeler, who lives in Muskegon, said there’s a deep reason he hasn’t moved into the Grand Haven community, although he has worked for the school system for more than a dozen years. Wheeler said he has two sons enrolled in the district, and his heart goes out to the parents and families going through the incidents, as he understands the importance of having his children feel safe.

Although Wheeler said there’s room for improvement in the district, it goes beyond the walls to make a difference.

“It’s going to take a community,” he said.

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