Racist incidents at Bloomfield Hills High School spark community event

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Reports of hateful messages targeting minorities at Bloomfield Hills High School and online drew quick rebukes and a message from participants at a community meeting Tuesday night: the messages, they said, won't be tolerated and changes are needed.

That was the focus of a forum touted as a community collaboration Tuesday, the week after hundreds of students walked out to protest the school administration's response to the racist messages.

Students and community members gather at Bloomfield Hills High School for a community forum on anti-racism on Tuesday.

"I am encouraged by the work the students and staff are doing together, but it’s clear we must improve relations between students and administrators, have clearer communications, better transparency and a revision of current policies," Principal Charlie Hollerith told an audience of hundreds. 

"I am encouraged by the work the students and staff are doing together, but it’s clear we must improve relations between students and administrators ..." Principal Charlie Hollerith tells the crowd Tuesday.

Demonstrators on Friday said incidents reported Wednesday and Thursday started in a private Snapchat group that spread throughout the student body. Racist and violent graffiti then turned up the school's walls. One of the messages on a bathroom wall encouraged killing all Black people, using a racial slur to refer to skin color.

Students said they were taking action because they felt the administration's response was not enough. About 200 students stood outside the school's entrance along Andover Road on Friday and called the incidents "utterly unacceptable" displays of racism.

The Bloomfield Township Police Department said it was investigating the incidents at the school. 

The event Tuesday was expected to feature breakout sessions among students, parents and staff facilitated by two professionals with Oakland Schools: Jay Marks, a diversity and equity consultant, and Julie McDaniel-Muldoon, safety and well-being consultant.

"Our presence means that harm has come to our community," Marks said.

But plans shifted after some parents said that the sessions weren't enough, and a group of students sought to speak about their experiences and concerns at the school.

Several said they were disappointed with school leaders, saying they believed their reports of bullying and racist remarks were not handled seriously.

Superintendent Pat Watson talks during the Community Collaboration Event at Bloomfield Hills High School in Bloomfield Township, November 16, 2021.

"I feel like this place is unsafe," one student said. "We need this to stop now."

Other students recommended adding "healing spaces" and strengthening discipline, including a zero-tolerance policy.

"There needs to be more active support from the administration,"  said Jaanaki Radhakrishnan, a senior.

On Monday, police announced they also were probing racist social media messages circulated that morning and Bloomfield Hills Schools officials reported.

Capt. James Gallagher of the Bloomfield Township Police Department told The Detroit News police are "trying to determine whether these posts are related to the graffiti at the high school or the possibility that individuals outside the district are creating posts to cause more controversy because of the graffiti. Anything’s possible at this point."

No arrests have been made, Gallagher said.

Bloomfield Hills High School students staged a protest Friday over the administration's response to racist graffiti in the building and comments on social media.

The Police Department has ordered extra patrols in and around the schools.

School and district officials have denounced the graffiti and said the event Tuesday was aimed to address the matter and gather feedback for ways to tackle the issue. 

Hate speech "is unacceptable and it will not be tolerated," Superintendent Pat Watson told the participants who packed a commons area at the high school.

Watson said the meeting was the first in what he called a long journey leading to change. "The work involves everyone in the community."

Some parents were cautiously optimistic.

"I hope that it will lead to change, and if it doesn't, then I hope it leads to us going beyond the administration" for help in spurring action, said Gianina Wells, who has children in the district.

Bryce Mattison, a sophomore, told school and district officials at the meeting about what he believed was a lax response to classmates using hate speech or discriminating.

The 15-year-old said he hoped administrators would "pay more attention to the students and have more severe consequences" for those who target others.

Radhakrishnan welcomed the chance to speak out Tuesday.

"It's really important to show a unified front as a community on our commitment to equity," she said.