ACLU-MI Commends Federal Investigation into Racially Hostile Environment in Paw Paw Public Schools

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
December 12, 2019 10:00 am

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ACLU of Michigan
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DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan (ACLU) welcomes the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights’ (OCR) decision to initiate a formal investigation into the Paw Paw Public Schools district. This investigation is a direct response to the ACLU’s January complaint regarding the pervasive racially hostile environment in the school district. The OCR states its investigation will determine in part “…whether the District effectively caused, encouraged, accepted, tolerated, or failed to correct a racially hostile environment for Native American persons at its high school.” If the OCR determines the school district’s practices violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the district could lose federal funding.

For years, the Paw Paw Public Schools district has been the focal point for controversy related to racist imagery, language, and mascot used by the high school’s sports program, which includes Native American stereotypes and slurs. There are numerous incidents when people challenged these practices, then were verbally or physically assaulted or intimidated.

Mark Fancher, Racial Justice Project staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, has this reaction:

“The school district has stubbornly refused to even discuss possible changes to make its programs more welcoming for Native Americans and other people of color, making this OCR investigation a victory. We are hopeful that federal scrutiny of the district will prompt concern that leads to reform. The atmosphere in the school district and surrounding community is toxic with respect to this issue. Too many people have suffered because of racial intimidation and resulting fear.”

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