Racism case closed, but changes required at GHAPS

Krystle Wagner • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:42 PM

Prior to the conclusion of a U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights investigation into incidents of KKK-like apparel and racial slurs at the high school, the Grand Haven Area Public Schools district entered a resolution agreement. The agreement outlines specific steps the district will take to resolve the situation now and appropriately handle situations in the future.

Among the things the district must do includes:

*Paying for counseling through June 2014 for two students at the heart of the racially-motivated incidents.

*Keeping these two students separate from any other students alleged to have harassed them.

*Providing additional staff supervision in areas, such as the bus lane and cafeteria, where racial harassment allegedly took place.

*Designating a district staff member who is responsible for handling any other suspected incidents of harassment, and for coordinating implementation of the school’s other remedies.

*Sending letters by June 1 to the parents of all students regarding racial harassment and information about the district’s policies.

*Submitting a copy of the school’s revised racial discrimination and harassment policies and procedures to the federal agency for approval.

-----------See PDF of agreement and letters below story-----------

The Office for Civil Rights will continue to monitor the district. If the district fails to meet the outlined steps, the investigation will re-open and the agency will take appropriate action to ensure the district’s compliance.

Grand Haven Area Public Schools entered into this agreement voluntarily. Superintendent Keith Konarska said the district had been in conversations with investigators about different opportunities and services the district could provide.

Konarska said they feel the agreement is an option that improves the district’s services and benefits students.

“Our hope is, through this very difficult and challenging situation, very positive things can result from it,” he said.

To assist with this endeavor, the district has hired Brian Wheeler as a diversity facilitator to be the point person for concerns or questions about racial harassment issues.

Konarska said Wheeler will continue his current part-time role as technology director and will expand his job into a full-time position to include engaging staff and students in discussions regarding issues of diversity that promote greater tolerance and acceptance for individual differences.

Lisa Hall, mother of a biracial student, initially filed the complaint with the federal agency after her daughter, Katie Bridgeforth, and a friend, Dystany Dunn, were racially intimidated beginning in September 2012.

Hall said she remains hopeful the requirements will bring positive change.

“There’s going to be a lot of changes in the near future,” she said. “It’s going to be interesting to see.”

Joni Dunn, mother of Dystany Dunn, isn’t satisfied with the outcome.

“I don’t feel like this is enough,” she said.

Hall and Dunn said their daughters have been changed by the incidents. Both girls sleep more, are depressed and attend counseling.

“I don’t think she’s ever going to get over this,” Hall said.

In recent weeks, Joni Dunn said the girls have experienced additional acts of racial intimidation.

During her daughter’s yoga class, a male student was allegedly overheard calling Dystany “ugly” and a “n----.”

The following day in the class, Dunn said, Dystany’s yoga ball rolled near the student and he kicked it across the gym. Joni Dunn said her daughter reported that the students pushed her, but it was difficult to tell from the video footage.

Two of the students involved with verbally harassing the girls earlier this year harassed them yet again, more recently, Hall said.

The two boys pulled up next to the girls’ bus at a stoplight and flipped the girls off through the window, Hall said.

Konarska said these incidents have been reported and are under review.

“Any type of behavior that is found to be threatening or intimidating is unacceptable and will be fully investigated,” he said. “Although we have high expectations for our students, the reality is that there may be times when they make poor choices. When that occurs we fully intend to hold students accountable, once validated.”

As the school year draws to a close, school officials continue efforts to expand and broaden understanding.

Konarska said the district is working with the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance and the Michigan Office of Civil Rights to provide training for bus drivers, teachers and administrators.

Prior to the start of the 2013-14 school year, middle and high school staff and bus drivers will receive training focused on cultural competency to assist in promoting tolerance and acceptance. Other staff will complete the training as the school year begins.

Konarska said their hope it that by working on diversity issues with students, parents and community partners, the community can develop a model that creates a school environment that embraces and celebrates diversity through greater understanding.

“It’s going to take a broader effort to have a longer impact on preventing this type of thing from reoccurring,” he said.

To read PDFs of the agreement and letters from the school district, click on the below attachments:


Recommended for You

    Grand Haven Tribune Videos