Parents Push for Public Release of Pioneer High Racial Climate Investigation

Pioneer High School
Image courtesy of Pioneer High School’s Facebook.

Community members and parents are pushing for a public release of the Ann Arbor Public School Board’s investigation into the racial climate of Pioneer. After numerous reports, the school board initiated an investigation concerning allegations by past and present students.

In August 2020, a Black Pioneer High School student filed a complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights alleging that she and other Black students faced a racially hostile environment at Pioneer High School. Based on the allegations, an investigation was initiated. Now, parents are pushing for the findings to be made public.

The complaint included a 14-page letter describing in detail the alleged racism the student and other Black students have faced at the school and how the atmosphere has interfered with their education. Another complaint was filed by a Pioneer student with the U.S. Department of Education. The second complaint alleges that a teacher violated the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.

The 14-page letter contained allegations of racism experienced at the school, which include how one specific teacher:

  • Insulted Black students and their parents in front of the class.
  • Humiliated Black students who struggled with math by putting their names on a board for all to see, in violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
  • Is hostile towards students who are members of the Black Student Union, along with the group’s faculty advisors
  • Uses coded language against Black students, referring to them as “criminals” and “delinquents”
  • Refusing to take her class to the Black History Month assembly because it was a “waste of time.” The teacher also complained that it didn’t focus enough on how white people made contributions to Black people.
  • Physically touched Black students in a hostile manner without their consent.

The student is represented by the Civil Rights Litigation Initiative at the University of Michigan Law School. That group interviewed numerous current and former Black Pioneer High students and students of color before filing the complaint on August 24, 2020.

In February 2020, students petitioned that the teacher be removed from Pioneer. Some Pioneer students were unhappy when the teacher was allowed back into the classroom. The petition started after the teacher grabbed a student by the arm. That incident and the petition led to the teacher being put on temporary leave. However, the instructor was allowed to return. Despite resulting in a police investigation, no charges were authorized by the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office.

Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) has hired a law firm rather than a civil rights organization to investigate the charges. Darryl Johnson, representing Ann Arbor Public Schools’ Black Parent & Student Support Group, asked that the Ann Arbor School Board be transparent in their findings at the Wednesday, March 17 board meeting. Johnson is urging board members and the School District to commit to making public the full results of the ongoing investigations into the racial climate at Pioneer High School.

Several board members stressed that they will demand transparency once the investigation comes to a close. Ann Arbor School Board Trustee Susan Baskett says the report will provide the district with documentation about the allegedly racially hostile climate. She states she’s heard stories about the climate “for years” about the school. 

While the investigation is in process, Ann Arbor School Board President Bryan Johnson urged community members to remain patient while a thorough investigation is undertaken. Students of Pioneer High School, both past and present, who have a story to share about the racial climate at the school, have an opportunity to speak out on the issue.