A Michigan teacher is accused of creating a hostile environment for Black students in a 14-page letter written on behalf of a 16-year-old girl in conjunction with a complaint filed with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.
The letter detailed several examples of alleged racist behavior from Michele Macke, a math teacher at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, toward junior Makayla Kelsey and other Black students. Kelsey is being represented by the Civil Rights Litigation Initiative at the University of Michigan Law School, which penned the letter.
In the letter, the CRLI claimed Macke mistreated Black students by insulting them and their parents in front of the entire class; picking on members of the Black Student Union; and refusing to attend a Black History Month assembly because it was a “waste of time” and didn’t focus on how whites helped Black people.
The instructor was also accused of using coded language, like “criminal” and “delinquent” toward Black students. Ariel Yancey, a 2020 Pioneer graduate, told the CRLI Macke told students: “You don’t listen in class, your teachers say you’re failing. …. [You are] a hooligan waiting to be a delinquent in life. … You’re going to be a loser in life.”
The letter details one instance when Macke questioned Kelsey about her mother’s involvement in her life after she returned from an absence related to a chronic health condition. The teen was also dealing with trauma related to witnessing a friend’s death.
“Does your mom have a plan for your life? Does your mom work? What does she do for a living? Does your mom just drop you off and continue with her life?” Macke reportedly asked.
“In late November of 2019, Makayla Kelsey faced these questions after returning to school from an absence related to her chronic health condition. Rather than treating Ms. Kelsey with compassion, Ms. Macke humiliated and punished Ms. Kelsey in front of her peers,” the letter stated.
Kelsey’s mother, Charmelle, confronted Macke about her comments but the situation did not improve. Instead, the CRLI claims, school administrators “refused to believe” Kelsey when she “said she felt bullied by Ms. Macke and unsafe at school.” The administrators reportedly “declared her truant, and attempted to refer her to an alternative school,” instead of providing accommodations requested by Charmelle Kelsey.
In another incident, Macke grabbed Kelsey by her arm after she tried to pick up a document on the teacher’s desk. The letter also accused Macke of yanking Yancey and another Black student. Macke was placed on administrative leave before she was allowed back in the classroom.
Macke’s reputation also has potential legal ramifications because she is also accused of posting students’ failing grades on the SmartBoard to embarrass them. This act is a violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which bars the distribution of privacy educational records like attendance reports and grades.
Macke’s classroom isn’t the only place where Pioneer’s Black students felt targeted. The letter states students in an economics class were made to play a game to see who could collect the most slaves. Black students told the CRLI they received harsher punishment compared to their white counterparts. Additionally, Black female students experienced unequal enforcement of the school dress code, as reported by The Detroit News.
The CRLI letter is demanding Macke’s termination, the establishment of a Race Discrimination Complaint system, and an investigation conducted by a third-party civil rights organization. Ann Arbor Public Schools spokesman Andrew Cluley gave a brief statement to WXYZ about the accusations.
“In the Ann Arbor Public Schools, we stand strongly against any and all acts of racism, bigotry, and bias,” Cluley said. “We will not comment publicly on personnel processes or pending litigation.”