Grosse Pointe schools condemns woman's use of racial slur at school board meeting

Grosse Pointe Public Schools is warning that it won't tolerate inappropriate public comments at school board meetings after a parent's "completely unacceptable" use of a racial epithet during Monday night's board session.

The parent, whose children attend school in the district, made the comment toward the end of the live-streamed in-person meeting.

The woman, who did not state her name prior to speaking, talked for just over three minutes, telling the board she was not happy with the district's diversity program. Then, she began using racial slurs in describing how one of her sons was suspended from a Grosse Pointe high school for using "the N-word" on the social media platform Snapchat.

Grosse Pointe school board President Joseph Herd issued a statement Wednesday after a parent used a racial slur during public comment at a Monday board meeting, saying "it is critically important that our entire community understands that this behavior has no place in our school district."

The speaker, who claimed she once "chaired" the diversity committee at Monteith Elementary in Grosse Pointe Woods, defended her son's use of the racial slur, which she used herself during Monday's meeting. She noted that her son is a fan of Hip Hop culture and the slur "happens to be in every song."  

Grosse Pointe Schools Board President Joseph Herd interjected, telling the woman she could finish her remarks but to "watch your language."

Herd, in a statement Wednesday, said he felt compelled to publicly address the woman's use of the racial slur and profanity. 

"It is critically important that our entire community understands that this behavior has no place in our school district," wrote Herd, who is African American. "As President, it is my job to conduct the meeting per Robert’s Rules. I immediately stopped her from using that language and said she could only continue if she refrained from such behavior.

"Moving forward," Herd added," anyone using inappropriate language will be removed from the meeting."

The racial slur was bleeped out on the streamed footage. Based on Federal Communications Commission regulations, "that language could not be broadcast," Rebecca Fannon, spokeswoman for the district said.

Grosse Pointe Schools Superintendent Jon Dean said Thursday that he's received calls and emails from parents who were "stunned and surprised" and felt "that language was completely inappropriate."

"I've sat at hundreds of board meetings in several districts and I've never heard racist language like that before. I don't expect I'll ever hear it again," said Dean. "It was so out of the norm and it was completely unacceptable."

Grosse Pointe Farms resident Shantrell Griffin, a parent of two children in the district and special needs middle school teacher, said the incident Monday is "very shocking."

"It just saddens my heart," said Griffin about the remarks made by the woman. "My heart hearts. It's offensive."

Griffin, who is African American, said just because a radio station might "normalize" offensive language doesn't make it OK to use it.

"It may be normalized but it's not civilized," said Griffin who applauded the district in how it handled the Monday incident, but said she will "hold them to" a promise to deal with any individual who exhibits offensive behavior or language at school board meetings.

Fannon said the incident is the first in the district's 100-year history. Grosse Pointe Public Schools has 6,700 students, 16% of which are African American, officials said. 

Dean said anyone who uses offensive language like the parent did Monday will not be allowed to speak again during that particular board meeting.

"We're going to expect people to conduct themselves in a professional and appropriate way," said Dean. "Nearly all of our speakers do. We have speakers speak on many things. Sometimes they're saying they agree with it and sometimes they're saying they don't agree but they do it professionally and that's our expectations moving forward."