A Michigan high school that’s been embroiled in a series of race-related controversies—with students staging a walkout in protest of classmates’ racist behavior earlier this month—is now being sued by a student over alleged discrimination.
NBC Detroit reported that a high school student and her parents filed a $150 million federal class-action lawsuit against Bloomfield Hills High School, the school’s principal, Charlie Hollerith, and district Superintendent Patrick Watson on Thursday. The unnamed 15-year-old and her parents allege that the school’s administration did not properly handle racist incidents, causing emotional anxiety for students of color.
“As students of color, plaintiffs and their parents have experienced racist, unfair, hurtful and at times dangerous interactions at [Bloomfield Hills] at the hands of both white staff and students,” the lawsuit said. “Despite being notified of race discrimination and related injustices by students and parents, [the] defendant has failed and continues to fail to take steps reasonably calculated to stop the discrimination and ensure [the] plaintiff’s safety.”
The student detailed her own experiences of racism in the lawsuit, alleging she found a Black doll with big, red lips hanging from a noose over a school banister. After telling a white school counselor about the doll, the student claimed that the counselor simply brushed it off and said that it was a part of a science project. Students were later seen dragging the doll by the noose in a video that circulated on social media, the lawsuit says.
In another incident detailed in the lawsuit, the student told a teacher about a white classmate using a racial slur, but the educator allegedly claimed that the white student was just making a joke and never punished the classmate. The student also alleged that white classmates mocked how she wore her hair, that racial slurs were constantly used without any repercussions, and that she was treated differently as the only Black student on the school’s equestrian team.
In a statement, the Bloomfield Hills School District said that “a safe, supportive, and inclusive student experience is at the center of our educational mission. ...Within the past two weeks, our Bloomfield Hills High School community has been impacted by deplorable incidents of racism and hate speech. In response, we have been actively listening to the concerns of our students, families, and community. As part of this community dialogue, we have stressed the District’s long-standing commitment that discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated in our schools.”
The statement continued: “Irrespective of any legal filings, the topic of equity and inclusion will continue to be a top priority for Bloomfield Hills Schools, as it has for the past several years. The district will emerge stronger and better as a result of these conversations.”
The lawsuit comes after a series of racist incidents have embroiled Bloomfield Hills school. On Nov. 8, a racist post made by a student circulated on social media. Hollerith addressed the situation in a letter to families, saying that “disciplinary actions” would be taken. Then, on Nov. 10, racist slurs, graffiti, and threats were found inside of a school bathroom. Hollerith and Watson both shared a statement to families of students that the situation would be investigated. On Nov. 12, hundreds of students staged a walkout in protest of how school officials were handling the events and demanded better leadership.
The school held a community forum on Nov. 16, according to NBC Detroit. Parents claimed that they were only partially informed about what was happening, and students said that they didn’t feel safe.
During a board of education meeting Thursday evening, Bloomfield Hills parents immediately addressed the increase in racist incidents at the school. One Black mother said that she and her husband have chosen not to send their kids to school as of late because they did not feel that “proper safety protocols have been put in place.” Another Black parent expressed her frustration over a “lack of administrative response” and that “there is no concern for the safety of Black children at Bloomfield Hills High School.”
As soon as he walked to the podium, parent Derek Albert addressed the board of education and accused them all of being “complicit” in what was happening to Black students.
“This district is full of danger right now, and what have you done about it? Absolutely nothing,” he said. “You’re complicit when you do nothing. ...If you don’t want to do [anything], resign. Get out of here. We’ll have somebody here who will do something.”
The lawsuit filed Thursday called for a full investigation into the racist threats, clear communication with families of Bloomfield Hills High School, and sensitivity training for all faculty members. The suit also demanded for more Black staff members to be hired to reflect the number of Black students in attendance at the school.