Bloomfield Hills students protest after diversity assembly sparks controversy

Bloomfield Hills Schools issue second apology

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. – Students protested outside of Bloomfield Hills High School after a conversation meant to spark a sense of inclusion instead alienates and offends. Now, the school is apologizing again.

In a new letter, Bloomfield Hills High School officials are apologizing for a second time, saying a guest speaker shared “antisemitic rhetoric” that had a “devastating impact” to 10th-grade students at a diversity assembly.

Huwaida Arraf, an attorney and well-known pro-Palestinian activist, was that speaker. She said criticizing Israeli policies towards Palestinians is not antisemitism.

“I am very much apart of the fight against antisemitism and all forms of racism and discrimination and I came to speak as part of a diversity panel assembly talking about the dangers of racism and making people feel excluded, Arraf said.

Some Jewish students said they immediately felt excluded and unsafe.

“How could you allow a speaker to come to our school, a ‘safe environment,’ and spread misinformation to hundreds of students who didn’t know anything about Israel now have their first impression of this beautiful country to be something of terror?” a student asked school officials.

“That this student felt uncomfortable, I think is unfortunate because I spoke from personal experience and I spoke about documented facts. People were criticizing, saying that I called Israel an apartheid state. I actually did not say that, in any of my talks but it would have been accurate to say that,” Arraf said.

Local 4 reviewed videos of Arraf’s talk where she told students about seeing Palestinians suffer from racism, discrimination and oppressive systems that need to be dismantled.

She talked about founding the International Solidarity Movement. At the time she said, “I remember thinking and dreaming we will have thousands of people who will make like a civilian army that will prevent the Israeli military from demolishing Palestinian homes or invading these villages.’”

Eaven O’Meara was also on the diversity panel. “She was very specific to point out it is not anti-Jewish, antisemitic, anti-Israel, it’s criticizing the policies of the Israeli state.”

Previous: Bloomfield Hills school principal issues apology after speeches made by Palestinian-American activist

Letter from Bloomfield Hills Schools

Below is the letter sent from Pat Watson, the Superintendent of Bloomfield Hills Schools. The letter was addressed to students, staff and community members:

“We made a mistake. The purpose of this letter is to explain what happened and express our sincere apology for the harm that was caused by allowing a conversation that was not appropriate in a school setting. We own what went wrong and will improve our practices.

On March 14, 2023, a diversity assembly was held for all BHHS students. In preparation for this assembly, administration met with each of the five speakers to discuss the intent of the assembly and prompts. The prompt was to address an oppression or discrimination they have faced and what could the people around you have done to make this better? A guest speaker deviated from the prompts and discussed specific incidents, political in nature, which were outside of the parameters of the assembly and not their own lived experience.

In a school of “No Place for Hate,” antisemetic rhetoric was shared with our students and we recognize its devastating impact. For this we are very sorry.

We also recognize that in the aftermath many others were hurt as well. We apologize for failing to guide our student organizers properly. We regret that we allowed the speaker to continue their presentation.

The presenter spoke about a very tumultuous and complex situation, the conflict in the Middle East involving Palestinians and Israelis. A situation of this complexity with various sides, perspectives, hundreds of years of suffering, war, and tragedy is not one well-suited to be presented at a diversity assembly and should have been eliminated as a potential topic for discussion. As the adults responsible for the safety, success, and well-being of our entire student body, we have failed in demonstrating how to highlight diversity in a positive way and how to address sensitive topics appropriately.

We have identified significant areas for improvement and we acknowledge we need to do better. We deeply regret that our process failed our students and created division in our school. None of our students should carry the burden of this - it falls squarely on the district.

Below outlines a few corrective measures:

  • Going forward, school-wide mandatory assemblies and other student-led programming will be supervised by adults with intention and purpose, designed to generate a well-crafted, tightly designed message. As part of this, we are committed to a complete redesign of our vetting process for guests within the school community. We are working on this urgently.
  • We are committed to plan and implement staff training to identify antisemitism and Islamophobia at its core and how to help students navigate these issues. These and other forms of hate must be addressed in order for us to foster a healthy educational environment. We have been and will continue to meet with community leaders and professionals to design these staff modules in the coming weeks.
  • We are committed to building back a resilient culture that will lead to dignified and productive student civil discourse. To this end we are open to suggestions and ideas which will help us support our students and their academic and personal development. We will implement student programming during this semester to achieve these goals. We will never allow hate to be accepted in our school.

Our students are watching us. It is our responsibility to take accountability for this, apologize, and take steps toward healing and doing better.”

About the Author:

Local 4 Defender Shawn Ley is an Emmy award-winning journalist who has been with Local 4 News for more than a decade.