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Civil rights complaint filed against SL schools

Krystle Wagner • Dec 16, 2017 at 10:00 AM

A local racially mixed family has filed a civil rights complaint against the Spring Lake school district.

Sarah and Adekunle Adams filed a complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights against Spring Lake Public Schools in November. The complaint stems from an incident on Oct. 10, when comments were made toward one of their four sons, which they believe were based on his race and gender.

The incident took place on a school bus, Sarah Adams said. As a result, the student who made the comment was supposed to sit at the front of the bus for the rest of the school year— but that punishment has not been enforced, Sarah Adams said.

Sarah Adams said she and her husband chose to send their children to Spring Lake schools for the smaller class sizes and strong tradition of education. But, throughout the past several school years, she said her sons were bullied and threatened while riding the bus and attending school.

After a year of working with administrators regarding the incidents, Sarah Adams said she and her family don’t feel as though they are seeing results, and they want the district to be held accountable.

“We wanted to make sure they knew how serious this is,” she said.

SLPS Superintendent Dennis Furton declined to answer specific questions about the situation. Instead, he emailed a statement that said the district’s staff and Board of Education “strive to promote a safe, inclusive and supportive environment for all of our learners.”

“Whenever a complaint is made against the district through proper channels, including public comment at a board meeting, the complaint is investigated and the party making the complaint receives an answer,” Furton said in the statement. “In this particular instance, the complaints were thoroughly reviewed in a meeting between the parent, members of our board and the superintendent. It is our belief that the process worked and that positive outcomes have already been realized, and more will follow.

“Importantly, this all occurred in a manner designed to lead to better understanding and more trusting relationships between the two parties,” he added. “We will continue to rely on these methods to resolve conflicts that arise within our school community.”

Although the state complaint was based on the October incident, Sarah Adams kept a running log on a series of incidents her sons experienced and their interactions with SLPS officials during the 2016-17 school year. She also discussed several of the incidents during a public comment session at the Spring Lake school board’s Oct. 16 meeting.

In one instance described by his mother, Adebayo, who was in second grade at the time, told his parents that a fellow student made fun of his African name, tripped and pushed him. Adebayo was also put in a room with his teacher, Jeffers Elementary School Principal Shelley Peets, the student who allegedly bullied him and that student’s father without parental consent, Sarah Adams said.

On at least two instances, Sarah Adams said her sons didn’t stand for the national anthem, and students tried pulling them to make them stand. Sarah Adams said her sons were also told to “go back to their country.” Following one of the incidents, Sarah Adams said her son’s class had a lesson about why people don’t stand for the national anthem.

In February, Sarah Adams said they received a call from the district’s bus garage because Adetunji, who was in fourth grade at the time, was upset because he thought someone would kill or harm Adebayo. According to Sarah Adams’ notes, Adetunji was crying and visibly shaking.

After speaking with Adetunji, Sarah’s notes reflect that he said he was bullied, and hit on the shoulder, chest and stomach. The student also tripped Adetunji and threw his items in the garbage.

At the time, Sarah Adams said that she warned Peets that her sons had enough of being bullied. Not long after that, Adetunji tackled the student who allegedly bullied him, and Adebayo sat on top of the student, Sarah Adams said.

At the end of February, Sarah Adams and her parents, who are former educators, met with Peets. At the time, it was determined the Adamses’ son and the other student wouldn’t be in the same specials classes, but both remained in the normal classroom together, and the Adamses’ sons would receive counseling.

The emailed statement from Furton stated the district wouldn’t respond to questions asking for details about “specific student behaviors, consequences for those behaviors or related issues.”

“We consider these matters to be private between the district and the parents of the students involved,” the superintendent said in the statement. “If a parent chooses to make her side of the matter public, we acknowledge that it is her right to do so. However, we have both a legal and ethical obligation to protect the privacy of our students, including those about whom the allegations were made.”

Overall, Sarah Adams said the district has been lax on their bullying policy and how they handle incidents.

She said she knew there would be issues when she and Adekunle got married and moved to Nunica.

Adekunle Adams said he grew up in diverse settings and lived in places such as Nigeria, Kuwait and Detroit, and it was a very rewarding experience. He said the Lakeshore community is a beautiful place, but he feels it’s missing out on relationships with other cultures, and the lack of interactions with diverse backgrounds leads to problems.

Instead of moving, Adekunle Adams said they plan to stay so they can “pave the way.” He said there needs to be a change in policy to be explicit on how to handle racial intimidation, adding that the area is becoming more diverse and he feels the school district isn’t prepared for it.

“This is an educational moment,” he added.

In November, The Adamses met with Furton, three school board members and representatives from the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance (LEDA). Sarah Adams said they received apologies during the meeting for the handling of a few situations and that district policies were being changed.

Furton declined to comment on the outcome of the meeting with LEDA.

Looking forward, Sarah Adams said she’s tired of hearing that people can’t believe racial bullying is happening locally.

“You have to educate people,” she said.

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