Family pulls children out of Utica schools after students, substitute teacher make racist remarks

Family says comments increased after Donald Trump was elected

By Kevin Dietz - Reporter, Amber Ainsworth

UTICA, Mich. - Parents in Utica said they pulled their children out of the district's schools after students and a substitute teacher made racist remarks.

Juan Sifuentes is Mexican and Kim Sifuentes is African-American. The family said that, after President Donald Trump was elected, bullying increased to the point where it was unbearable.

Nayeli Sifuentes, who was at Swietzer Elementary School, said that no one really pointed out her race or ethnicity until after the election, when she said people started telling her she didn't belong.

"My then-9-year-old was in class and kids started talking about how they were glad Trump was building a wall because Mexicans don't deserve to live in Michigan," Kim said.

Kim said that the day after the election, children chanted about building a wall.

"The only kid that got sent to the office was the kid who hollered 'shut up.' All the other kids just got sent back to their classrooms," she said.

The parents allege that it wasn't just children making racial comments.

"While learning about latitude and longitude, this substitute [teacher] starts talking about how Brazilians and Mexicans rob people, they don't have money, they're not good people, they're not under good leadership," Juan said.

The Sifuentes said they went to the principal, the school board and the superintendent, but they didn't feel that they were being taken seriously, so they filed a complaint with the American Civil Liberties Union, asking that all parents be notified about the concerns.

In a letter to the school, the ACLU recommended the district participate in a restore program, which helps institutions challenged by racial controversies through the expertise of multiple organizations. The district declined the offer and said it has its own programs in place.

Read a full statement from Utica Community Schools below:

"The use of racially insensitive comments are hurtful, inappropriate and are not tolerated at Switzer Elementary and within Utica Community Schools.

"Our school district welcomes, promotes and embraces an environment for students of different backgrounds regardless of disability, language, race/ethnicity, heritage, religion, socio-economic status and gender. This goal is essential in celebrating our own uniqueness and in nurturing a culture based on mutual respect and personal responsibility.

"Since the concerns were shared by the parents, the following actions were taken:
• All reported incidents were thoroughly investigated and addressed.
• UCS responded to the American Civil Liberties Union regarding its outreach and shared our strategies to promote cultural proficiency awareness and addressed specific concerns. 
• Principal grade-level meetings held with students to promote respect and responsibility.
• A Student Advisory Board began to assist in leading the work on respect and responsibility. The Student Advisory is representative of the demographic makeup of the student body.
• The student broadcast is being used as one of the tools to communicate the awareness and understanding of diversity.
• A Parent Advisory Team formed to further develop cultural proficiency in school and in the extended community. The advisory team is comprised of a diverse group of parents representing different races/ethnicities and religions. 

"These actions reflect the existing cultural training in place at Switzer and the district.  These include:

"District Level
• Professional development in cultural proficiency and awareness for administrators and staff based on the work of Dr. Randall Lindsey – a nationally-recognized author and consultant for issues related to diversity. 
• The district works closely with organizations that support individuals from different ethnicities/backgrounds, for example Welcoming Michigan, OneMacomb, ACCESS, the Chaldean Chamber of Commerce and the Council of Asian Pacific Americans. 
• Macomb Diversity Summit
• Restorative Justice Practices

"Building Level with Staff since 2014
• Activities Deepening Understanding of One’s Identify and Bias (implicit/explicit)
• Training based on cultural proficiency continuum (The continuum reflects the behaviors of people and organizations who possess the knowledge, skills and moral bearing to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy practices as represented by varying world views. These range from Cultural Proficiency (top level) to Cultural Destructiveness (the most unhealthy practice). 
• Working with Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS)

"Cultural Proficiency and Awareness Plan at Switzer Elementary School
• Goal: To create and support the awareness and understanding of diversity so we can celebrate our uniqueness (heritage, race, language, religion, economic status, gender, ethnicity, disability) and nurture an environment based on mutual respect.

"o PBIS for the last four years
o Focus last year: Respect
o Focus this year: Appreciating Differences and Learning from the Uniqueness from One Another in conjunction with respect.
o Professional development to identify key staff to assist in leading the cultural proficiency work with staff, students and community. 
o Regular staff training to focus on cultural proficiency and utilizing resources within the school and community.
o Classroom teacher meetings with students and assemblies with students promoting respect and responsibility. 
o Student activities implemented to deepen understanding of the various cultures in the community, how to respond to one another and to promote kindness to one another. 
o Continue Student Advisory Board, use of student broadcast to support the awareness and understanding of diversity and Parent Advisory Team."

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