Officials say racist Snapchat photo came from outside school district

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published October 22, 2019

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — On Oct. 15, Grosse Pointe Public School System officials announced — through a news release — that a racist Snapchat photo that had been circulating in the community did not show Grosse Pointe students.

“After images hit social media of two young women in blackface saying there would be a slave day at South High School, the administration launched an intense investigation,” the news release states. “These key facts need to be shared. There is not a slave day at South and there will not be. Those are not GPPSS students.”

According to the news release, the Snapchat images were compared to every South student, and then every GPPSS student bearing a resemblance or having the name Lilly.

“No matches were found. After media coverage, a family came forward with information regarding a possible suspect,” according to the news release. “With their information it was determined the image is of a woman residing in California. She has never been a student in GPPSS, although she does have ties to Michigan.”

District Superintendent Gary Niehaus addressed the Snapchat matter at the district’s ninth annual luncheon held Oct. 11 at Brownell Middle School in Grosse Pointe Farms.

“What we found was that it’s a spoof. It wasn’t there. It didn’t happen,” Niehaus said. “We don’t have senior slave day.”

The district goes through a process when dealing with incidents.

“When people take us to task over racial overtones, pictures and videos and threats and stuff that goes on, I’ll be the first to step forward, and the people right behind me will be my building principals and my assistants,” Niehaus said. “But the most important people behind me are my police chiefs. I’ve got a great relationship. They’re all on my cellphone. I can call and talk to them at any point in time, and they’re the first ones to come and respond.”

He also thanked the local city managers for their assistance in various matters.

According to school officials, although the Snapchat photo was not of district students, “damage has again been done. Incidents like this hurt all of us, even when the allegations are untrue.”

The district has dealt with similar incidents in the past.

Over Memorial Day weekend in 2016, four students — three from South and a fourth from University Liggett School in Grosse Pointe Woods — reportedly made a video that GPPSS officials described as “offensive” and “racist regarding African Americans.” The N-word was used in the recording.

In March 2016, four South students were suspended for social media posts. While at a party March 12, three students reportedly wrote messages on their stomachs that contained the N-word, while a fourth student reportedly wrote “I (heart) weed” on her knee. A photo of the students with the messages was posted on various social media outlets, including Facebook and Snapchat. The students involved in the March incident were not the same students on the video made in May.

Race also was a matter of discussion in the spring of 2019 while the district was undergoing a reconfiguration process. Through activities linked to the district’s Diversity Plan, school officials are working in several areas to ensure schools are safe and welcoming for all students and staff. For instance, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and Wayne Regional Educational Service Agency continue to provide training for administrators and staff.

This November, the Board of Education also will be trained regarding microaggressions. Students from North and South high school will continue to attend the University of Michigan Summer Youth Dialogue programming to bring back ideas to reinforce equity efforts in the schools.