Students hold signs displaying positive messages at an anti-racism rally hosted by Farmington Public School graduates this past June.

Students hold signs displaying positive messages at an anti-racism rally hosted by Farmington Public School graduates this past June.

Photo provided by Cheryl Blau

New racial proclamation promises many changes for FPS

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published August 25, 2020


FARMINGTON/HILLS — Farmington Public Schools officials are attempting to take a more firm stance on racism and racial equity in the district.

Board of Education trustees voted 6-1 — Trustee Terry Johnson voted against — to pass a proclamation that promises a variety of changes Aug. 11.

The proclamation states the district stands against acts of racism and declares itself an anti-racist institution. It declares racism a public health crisis. It promises to integrate racial and cultural elements into curriculums, as well as to participate in cultural audits to ensure Black, indigenous and people of color, or BIPoC, are represented at every level of the district.

Staff and board trustees will be required to participate in implicit bias and equity training. It says the superintendent will work with local law enforcement to “promote a culturally affirming climate.” The district will no longer celebrate Columbus Day, replacing it with Indigenous People’s Day. It promises to create safe spaces for staff to express feedback, as well as to conduct regular satisfaction surveys to assess the district as it relates to racial issues and concerns.

According to the proclamation, 24.9% of the district’s students are Black or African American, 3.7% of students are Latinx, 15.4% are Asian or Asian American, 0.1% are American Indian or Alaskan native, 4.2% are multi-racial, and 51.7% are white. 

“We recognize that this proclamation is just the first step in a long healing process. The words outlined in the proclamation outline our intent. The actions outlined in the proclamation will all be developed and implemented with the specific purpose of achieving measurable results,” Superintendent Robert Herrera and newly hired Assistant Superintendent of Diversity and Inclusion Bobbie Goodrum said in a joint email response.

Families and staff in the district will start to see some of the initiatives implemented during the 2020-2021 school year, Herrera said, though the non-traditional format of the upcoming year does slow things down a bit.

“Many of the initiatives are multi-faceted and will be integrated into our short- and long-term strategic plans. We are committed to this work and will move forward as quickly as we can without sacrificing effectiveness,” Goodrum and Herrera said jointly.

Board Trustee Angie Smith voted in favor of the proclamation but overall still won’t be happy with it until she sees change in the district. She couldn’t, in good conscious, support a proclamation that was used as window dressing, she said.

“Our minority children are not being treated fairly. … I don’t want to see a proclamation so it looks good, because other districts have done it,” Smith said, adding that it took the district three weeks after the killing of George Floyd to draft the first document. “I was asked by the mayor of Farmington Hills to help write the proclamation for the city. I was involved in that, and she jumped on board before our own school district. We have two pandemics, and one is right here in Farmington Hills.”

Smith believes the district isn’t only dealing with institutional racism, but socio-economic racism, as well. She believes it extends beyond racism, saying there’s discrimination across the board happening based on gender, race and disability.

She said that as a woman of color, she found it insulting that neither she nor the other two trustees of color were asked to take part in the initially drafted proclamation that trustees saw in June. She has since collaborated and provided input for the approved proclamation.

With the proclamation now passed, Smith, who also sits on the task force on equity for Oakland Schools, said she plans to use her positions to hold the district accountable for the changes promised, but she said she believes change may not come until the board sees some newly elected candidates.

“We need to elect new people, come November. Not so much people of color, because I’ve been accused of trying to make this district all Black. Well, good luck with that. That’s not the case,” she said. “We need new leadership. We need board members who can relate, whether they’re Black, Latino, white, Asian — that they get the picture. We don’t need followers.”

Casting the lone dissenting vote, Johnson said he wished the proclamation would have been simplified to say that all people are treated equal.

“The purpose of a proclamation is not to go back in time and change things. It’s a point of looking forward. How do we make things right for everyone moving forward? I just don’t think this proclamation does that,” he said. “If we’re trying to target a certain group to make life better for that certain group, wouldn’t we want to make life better for everyone else? If I walk into a classroom, shouldn’t I be treated just like everyone else?

“I think everyone should be treated equally, and the moment you start treating anyone different than anyone else, I believe, that’s when you run into problems.”

Trustee Terri Weems refuted Johnson’s statements Aug. 11, stating that’s not the district’s reality.

“We do not treat everyone the same. We have evidence of that all over the place. I want people to feel welcome, to feel heard. I want us to work on an equity policy with fidelity,” she said. “I don’t see anything in this proclamation that says we plan to treat anyone differently. For that reason, I support it.”