Video with racist slurs surfaces in Grosse Pointes amid school closure tensions

Grosse Pointe South High School

A video in which Grosse Pointe South High School students spout racist slurs at each other has surfaced on social media furthering tensions in a community enduring fallout of a school closure plan that has opened wounds of race and class.

The video features two white girls seen wrangling and spewing offensive language, including use of the N-word and references to slavery. 

Superintendent Gary Niehaus said the district's investigation into the video is ongoing after it became aware of it over the weekend.

More: NAACP reviewing Grosse Pointe school closure decision

The video was referenced Monday night before the Grosse Pointe Board of Education voted to close two elementary schools, including one that is predominantly black.

Niehaus said Grosse Pointe South's principal met on Monday with the two students in the video, who are friends, and their parents to work through the conflict and help them see how their actions impacted the broader community.

"Both parents were supportive, disappointed, even aghast," said Niehaus, adding the parents requested the meeting. "We continue to work with the parents and others."

Though the incident occurred off school property outside the school year, Niehaus said the students will face athletic code violations. 

Rebecca Fannon, a spokeswoman for the district, added the meeting with the students gave the district an opportunity to use "restorative justice" that its team has been trained on to address the situation, though some in the community were calling for harsher penalties.

She and Neihaus say the process involved a mediator who helped the students work through the conflict to find a resolution and help them see how their actions reverberated in the community.

"We are working with children," Fannon said. "We want them to learn from the process for healing. But we want them to see their actions impact all of our students.

"We want to bring our community back together. It gave them an opportunity to explore (how their actions) impacted others in the school. We want all kids to feel safe and welcome in our school."

Agustin Arbulu, executive director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, said how the district handled the video "says a lot." 

"Their response was to do restorative justice," Arbulu said. "I don’t know how restorative justice addresses systems and issues based in bigotry and racism. This is endemic of the Pointes. It is important to work beyond that."

During Monday’s board of education meeting, Arbulu urged the board to first adopt a "racially conscious" approach to reconfiguring schools before making any closure decisions for the district.

Arbulu reminded the board that he was introduced to the community a few years ago when the district had an incident involving South High students who had posted images of others students who had the N-word written on their bodies.

“During the past 30 days, I have heard from parents and learned about other racial-related incidents as well as a sense of intolerance to students with special needs. And just today, I saw a video that is circulating involving Grosse Pointe students referencing the N-word and a reference to 'slave.' This is indeed unfortunate.” 

The video and how the district handled it comes as the school board met for several hours Monday night at a meeting that included discussions of race before officials voted to close Trombly and Poupard elementary schools.

While district officials say the move to close the two schools is aimed at saving funds as enrollment declines, some noted the majority of Poupard's students are black.

Poupard is also the only school in the Grosse Pointe school system, which serves one of the wealthiest communities in the region, designated as Title I, meaning it receives federal funds to supplement the school because it has a significant number of low-income students. 

On Tuesday, board president Brian Summerfield said he had not seen the video.

"I will look at it. I would rather not. It’s horrible," he said.“... We would like to do what we can to educate our kids so they don’t behave in this kind of way.”