Students accused of bullying a black basketball player with monkey noises during a school game have been suspended from their Michigan school district, but it wasn’t enough for parents and community members who argue the district is too soft on racism.
Despite the punishments of the students, parents and teachers continued to denounce racism Jenison Public Schools at a board meeting Monday night.
Peter DeGraaf, director of communications for Jenison Public Schools, told The Daily Beast on Tuesday that the students responsible for the racist behavior had been subjected to “extracurricular disciplinary action.” He did not specify what that entailed or how many students were involved, but Michigan media outlet MLive reported that the students had been suspended.
At Monday’s meeting in Georgetown Township, Superintendent Brandon Graham told the Jenison Board of Education that district officials were trying to find a way to create a more inclusive atmosphere for students, MLive reported. He added that staff met with members of the NAACP for help. According to MLive, Graham wants to increase staff diversity, encourage conversation among students about diversity, and make it easier for students to report racist incidents.
“It’s really important that we understand that our approach isn’t just the response to this isolated incident,” Graham said, according to MLive.
He added that the district needed to determine what are the “meaningful steps for us to develop a sense of belonging…and build cultural competence in our students and adults.”
On December 16, Jenison Senior High School played a basketball game against Wyoming High School in which a black player on the team was mocked with monkeys.
Afterwards, the student’s mother posted about the incident on Facebook.
“I’m just disgusted how the student section at Jenison High School started making monkey noises when my son was at the free throw line,” Capriece Polson wrote, along with a video of her son at the free throw line. “Wait, not just the sound, but if you look closely you will see that one of the students is actually acting like a monkey. Just know the supervisor, director and [athletic director] will receive an email with this video. This must STOP and these children must be held accountable.”
The original video of the incident was posted by Jenison alumna Rachel Pierce. from Pierce post had over a thousand shares, 550 comments, and received over 600 comments.
On Dec. 16, Graham emailed district families about “racist behavior” during that night’s basketball game and released a public statement, MLive reported. However, the statement was removed from the district’s Facebook page on Tuesday.
At Monday’s meeting, the overseer seemed optimistic after the racist incident, but dozens of community members took the opportunity to express their frustration.
Joe Spalding, a local political activist, posted community member testimonials to the school board on Twitter.
“What have you done to remind the children and staff that racism will not be tolerated in schools?” Polson questioned the board, claiming that board members were not acting quickly or harshly enough. “Since this incident, what have you done to train your students, your employees?”
Polson’s mother also addressed the board, saying her grandson should have been protected during the game.
“This system doesn’t work,” she said. “I am very upset; he can’t go out here and play a game he loves.”
She said she was “disgusted” by the coaches and referees.
“This is clearly a structural problem in our neighbourhood. The gentle approach to discipline … has created a safe place –not a safe place for minority students, but a safe place for racism and bigotry,” a parent said at the meeting. “You had the opportunity to send a clear and concise message to your students, administrators and parents. …Unfortunately I feel you fall short.”
An English teacher in the district claimed that racism was so widespread that many students did not bother to report it.
Alumni from Jenison public schools claimed that similar racist incidents happened while they were in school and that nothing has changed over the years.
In DeGraaf’s statement Tuesday, he said that “racism is a problem that affects not just individuals, but entire communities.” He said the district, as educators, recognizes that they “are not experts on race, and it is crucial [they] collaborate with others to bridge gaps and build sustainable solutions.”
“We will continue to work with other organizations and experts, other school districts and community members,” he said. “We understand that addressing issues like racism is an ongoing process that takes time and there is always room for improvement. We are committed to continually reviewing and adapting our strategies to better serve and educate our students, families and community.”