A Harrison High School administrator was recently reassigned to the Maxfield Education Center after a comment she made calling the HHS cheer team “strippers.”

A Harrison High School administrator was recently reassigned to the Maxfield Education Center after a comment she made calling the HHS cheer team “strippers.”

Photo by Erin Sanchez

‘Strippers’ comment results in reassignment for Harrison High assistant principal

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published October 29, 2018


FARMINGTON HILLS — A Sept. 21 incident in which a school administrator referred to the Harrison High School cheer team as “strippers” resulted in her being disciplined and removed from HHS, and reassigned to the Maxfield Education Center.

Further investigation into allegations of possible discriminatory behavior turned up no evidence, according to Superintendent George C. Heitsch.

The “strippers” comment sparked strong reactions throughout the Farmington Public Schools district, especially from the cheer team, whose members are primarily black, while the now-former Assistant Principal Angela Leach is white.

Leach’s comment at a homecoming pep rally resulted in Leach initially being placed on paid leave while an investigation was underway.

Leach did not respond to C & G Newspapers’ requests for comment, and a school official contacted about the matter said that Leach did not wish to be interviewed.

An email blast sent by Heitsch Oct. 11 states that Leach made the “inappropriate comment” to two students following the cheer team’s performance.

On Sept. 24, school administrators, including Heitsch, met with the cheer team, and Leach apologized to the students, according to the email, “followed later that same day by an apology letter shared by the administrator with the cheer families,” Heitsch wrote, adding that a formal investigation was initiated by the Human Resources Department and the district’s Title IX officer.

“When difficult events occur, it is important to keep in the forefront that we remain committed to creating an environment where every student can succeed and achieve their potential,” he said.

In an Oct. 19 letter, Heitsch said that the investigation was completed, and it found that:

• Leach did not violate Title IX protections.

• Further investigation into alleged discriminatory behavior did not yield evidence to support any further findings.

• Appropriate discipline was applied regarding the statement made.

In a Sept. 24 letter provided by Diane Bauman, the district’s director of school/community relations, Leach stated that she was surprised by the artistic decisions seen in the performance, which included using money as a prop, and “I allowed my frustration to come out in a comment that I deeply regret. Left open to be interpreted by others, it was inappropriate for me to let my emotions get the best of me.

“I believe that our young ladies should be seen as the smart and caring individuals that they are, but my comment had an opposite and unintended impact. I deeply regret the fallout that occurred today at school for all of our wonderful cheerleaders. I was able to offer an apology to the team, and I would like to do the same to you, as their parents and guardians.

“There are actionable steps that we gathered from our meeting today to address some underlying issues that we feel will help our cheerleaders feel more valued in our school. Our administrative team is already working on putting those ideas into place.

“As a parent myself, I understand that having children come home with frustrations about school can be upsetting, especially when they are rooted in the words of an adult. I again want to offer my sincerest apologies.”

The school’s cheer director could not be reached for comment.

After the investigation, Leach was reassigned to the Maxfield Education Center “to focus on other work supporting the district,” Heitsch stated in the email. “She will not have staff or student supervision as job responsibilities for this year. Mrs. Leach has other steps to complete related to this, including steps to repair the relationship with the cheer team.”

He said that Harrison High School Principal James Anderson and the district’s Restorative Practice facilitators will continue to provide support for the cheerleaders and their families.

During an Oct. 2 FPS Board of Education meeting (before the decision was made to reassign Leach), HHS junior Jade Forest, a cheer team member, said she’s taught at HHS that “every action has a consequence,” and Leach’s apologies are not what she wants.

“If I go around and bully … a Caucasian female, I’m going to be suspended,” she said.

Farmington Hills resident Kerry Leon Jackson — former president of the Farmington African American Parent Network and an FPS parent — talked about what he said is a “very long string” of discrimination and mistreatment of African-American students.

“When I was helping to run FAAPN, we did what we could to help the individual student,” he said.

At an Oct. 16 school board meeting, Roxanne Fitzpatrick, who is heavily involved in FPS and is a longtime community member, said that Leach “believes in all the children.”

She said that Leach made an inappropriate comment, but she apologized, and that she is not racist or a bully.

FPS parent Doreen Griffin, a parent of a cheer team member, spoke Oct. 2 and said that her daughter came home after Leach’s comment “depressed.”

She added that she initially felt bad for Leach and thought it was accidental.

“The assistant principal is a human too,” Griffin said; however, she was concerned after hearing other things that Leach allegedly said to her daughter and other cheer team members.

“I wasn’t aware of (that), and it made me listen closer to my daughter,” she said.

Forest said that there is no vendetta against Leach, but at HHS, the cheer team is being  bullied at school.

She said she has to endure harassment in the hallways and that social media posts directed at her ask if she will be dancing for money, since she’s a stripper.

She said African-American girls, as well as “the girls with curves,” have been made to feel uncomfortable.

“This is my learning put in jeopardy,” she said. “I care about my education. … I want to be a surgeon.”

Numerous commenters spoke for Leach — saying race has nothing to do with the incident because strippers are “white, black, blue, green” — while others spoke against Leach.

Heitsch said in the Oct. 11 letter that an audit conducted by an outside agency to review the district’s processes and procedures on how the district responds to issues of inequity and marginalization is also being done.

He said in the Oct. 11 letter that a feedback tool on the district’s website and phone app will allow for the opportunity to gather feedback from both internal and external stakeholders, who can remain anonymous.

Sue Cobb — who has been in the district for decades — said during the Oct. 16 meeting that there are “wonderful kids at Harrison.”

“And to bring this into them their final year … it’s made the school sad,” she said, adding that no one has the full story. “I’d personally like to know why Mr. Stark isn’t here. There has to be something behind that.”

Former school board President Jim Stark resigned from the Farmington Public Schools Board of Education, and new President Terri Weems was chosen to serve through November 2020, when it will be filled through the regular school board election, according to a districtwide email.

In a follow-up email, Stark said that there was “misinformation” regarding his resignation. He said in the Oct. 11 letter that he began his term in public service to Farmington Public Schools in 2016 because he believes in the mission of educating children.

“I love this school district, and both of my daughters have enjoyed wonderful educational experiences,” he said, adding that a current “negative political climate” in the district made it impossible for him to execute his duties and vision for the district.

“I will greatly miss my role of serving the community and serving the students, as I cherished my seat on the school board,” he said.

He declined to comment further.

Trustee Angie Smith said Oct. 16 that her fellow board members and colleagues don’t have a hidden agenda.

“Each one of us are here for the best interest of our children,” she said, adding that her position has become every day, all day.

“My colleagues ... ran for these positions to look out for the well-being of these children. There is a due process that has to be done. And that is what we are having the administration do. There is no witch hunt.”

She added that the school district is sorry that the incident happened.

“But there is a due process,” she said. “If it was a black administrator, same process.”

For more information, go to www.farmington.k12.mi.us.