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Ferndale school board declares racism public health crisis, vows changes

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Racism is a public health crisis that unfavorably impacts Ferndale public school students and their families, the district's school board declared in a resolution.

The Ferndale Schools Board of Education unanimously passed the resolution Monday night, directing a board committee to research and integrate racially and culturally relevant elements into the curriculum and within the school buildings.   

"The Board charges its Committee of the Whole to research and develop a racial equity policy for the district to explicitly ensure our Black, Latinx, and other marginalized students are not disproportionately affected by racism," the resolution states.

Ferndale school officials said the Michigan district is now the second school district in the nation to pass such a resolution following the lead of Akron Schools.

Hundreds carry signs at Nine Mile as they cross Woodward in Ferndale during a protest against police brutality and for racial equity.

The resolution comes amid local, national and global protests against racial inequities and police brutality and after the death of George Flyod, a black man who died after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

The district, located in Oakland County on the border with Detroit, is 67% black/African American and 29.5% white.

As part of the resolution, the board directed Superintendent Dania H. Bazzi to work directly with the Ferndale, Oak Park and Pleasant Ridge police departments, which provide services to its schools, to review the district's standards and expectations to "further promote a culturally affirming climate, which our school buildings and students deserve."

On Tuesday, Bazzi said the resolution provides the district and community with clear direction to continue to break down systemic racism that adversely impacts black students.

"Ferndale Schools is committed to fighting racism through the implementation of our equity based strategic plan and tangible initiatives outlined in this resolution," Bazzi said.

The board also directed the district to discontinue the celebration of Columbus Day and recognize and honor Indigenous people's contributions and the impact that history has had on their heritage within its curriculum. 

Bazzi was also asked by the board to work with the district's nearly 350 employees to begin forming race and other identity-based employee resource groups focused on supporting and increasing staff climate, morale and camaraderie. 

April Campbell-Williams, who has two children in Ferndale schools, supports the resolution and is glad the district is having this conversation now.

"I am very happy they did (the resolution)," Campbell-Williams said. "I think racism is something people know is there but very rarely talk about until there is a major issue."

Campbell-Williams says the district is already inclusive with a mix of economic, racial and sexual-orientation backgrounds among its families and the community.

She wants the districts to go beyond celebrating diversity on a single day.

"Indigenous People's Day is great, but that is just one day. There is this whole indigenous culture out there we can learn about," she said. "Let's learn about this more than one day."

In 2016, the district merged its two elementary schools: one that was majority white and not economically disadvantaged and the other, majority black, with a majority of students living in poverty.

Third grade teacher Jodi Prince points to a mood meter chart during a social-emotional learning activity in Ferndale earlier this year.

The consolidation combines low-income students with higher-income students and black students with white students in the lower grades. The district said it hoped the merger would help them address academic achievement gaps in the district, which are also happening statewide in K-12 schools.

jchambers@detroitnews.com