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BHS board fields complaints about assembly

By Lisa Brody


At a hastily called special meeting of the Bloomfield Hills Schools Board of Education on Monday, March 20, hundreds of parents, students and members of the community turned out to relay their fears, anger and disappointment in the school administration, following a diversity assembly at Bloomfield Hills High School on Tuesday, March 13, which featured a noted anti-Israeli Palestinian speaker who made statements calling Israel an apartheid state, “an oppressor,” as well as denying Israel's existence.


The board explained to the crowd the purpose of the special meeting was to discuss student attendance, student safety and next steps in light of the previous week's diversity assembly.


“We have heard you. As a board, we want to emphasize our commitment to building bridges,” said board vice president Siva Kumar, acting as president as Michelle Southward was not available.


While many Jewish parents and students described anger at the antisemitism espoused by Palestinian activist Huwaida Arraf at four separate assemblies despite complaints, Muslim and Arab parents and students felt they were being victims of Islamaphobia as they felt Arraf “was truthfully presenting her side of the story working on behalf of Palestinians and her remarks were pertinent to the topic...The school district alienated the Muslim and Arab population and exposed them to increased risk, retaliation and bullying,” according to a letter written by the Muslim Unity Center.


Bloomfield Hills Schools Superintendent Pat Watson was asked by the board what attendance has been at the high school since the assembly, and he responded it was 90.3 percent.


Watson said an increased number of counselors have been in the schools, there is an increased presence of Bloomfield Township police presence, more therapy dogs on campus, “and we're spending a lot of time in listening circles. The goal is to meet students where they are.”


Watson did acknowledge there has been a significant increase in incidents of hate, which they are following up utilizing the student code of conduct policy, first instituted two years ago. He said in less than a week since the assembly, there have been 17 incidents of hate reported, one of which so far has been turned over to the police resource officer. He said it had to do with a social media posting.


“Anything intended to do harm is turned over to police,” he explained.


Watson said they have additional administrators now dealing with incidents. “When there's something to do with harm, it's pretty direct.” He said the administrator working on the case makes the determination on suspension and expulsion.


Parents and board members were disturbed to hear a long-range plan may not be in place until sometime in April.


“A week and a half is like a million years to students,” said board member Paul Kolin.


Board member Meagan Hill made a motion for the board to obtain independent counsel to allow them to “stop pointing fingers at the administration. We need a strategic plan for the board.”


John VanGemert, board secretary, responded he understood the board already has their own attorney. A final decision will be made at a later date.


Public comment lasted for well over two hours, as the board heard from female Islamic students wearing hijabs who said they have been threatened “with being hung by their hijabs.”


A former Bloomfield Hills middle school student noted, “People are fearful. Parents are fearful of sending their students to school, and students are fearful of speaking out.”


A recurrent refrain from speakers was that students and the community, which has long been diverse, had gotten along for years until this assembly, and school principal Lawrence Stoughter and diversity director Margaret Schultz had not reacted well to the situation, creating disharmony and anger. Many were distraught at the responses by Stoughter and Watson.


“Before you had someone in charge of diversity, we didn't have these problems, we didn't have these problems. Maybe that's where the problem is,” said one speaker.


“We have more hate from having the assemblies than if we hadn't,” said another.


As for antisemitism and Islamophobia instruction, “It's not our job to educate the DEI supervisor,” noted another parent. “If the person doesn't know any better and needs to be educated, they need to be removed.”

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