Farmington Schools board meeting erupts over diversity resolution

A Farmington Public Schools resolution in Support of Racial Equity and Justice took a turn during Tuesday night’s Board of Trustees electronic meeting, with one official calling it “rushed” and inadequate.

The resolution comes almost three weeks following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and subsequent protests around the world, including several in Farmington and Farmington Hills, supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

Drafted by Dr. Aaron Johnson, Assistant Superintendent of Diversity/Equity/Inclusion/Student Services, and Director of School/Community Relations Diane Bauman, the resolution affirms the district’s commitment to “eradicating racism, bigotry, discrimination, hate, and violence, in any form” and expresses a series of beliefs regarding diversity, learning, and growth:

Farmington Schools diversity resolution

In a sharply worded statement, Board secretary Angie Smith said that board president Pam Green contacted trustees the night before the meeting about the resolution.

“I think this is being taken lightly,” she said. “Other districts moved on this immediately… I take offense to this being rushed and given to us at the last minute.”

Smith said she heard about black staff members who were leaving the district and was also disturbed that the resolution came after the controversial termination of Wood Creek Elementary teacher Monique Anderson-Pickens, who is black.

“We’ve got to start with the systemic racism in our own community,” she said.

Trustee Terri Weems called the resolution a good start and pointed out that board members typically review and discuss resolutions before approving them at a subsequent meeting. Trustee Jessica Cummings agreed, adding “if the board wants to make modifications, we can always update this in August.”

‘Not just words on paper’

Board treasurer Zach Rich felt the resolution fell short of offering guidelines for action. He said the Ferndale school board declared racism a public health crisis.

“We need to make sure this actually means something and is not just words on paper,” he said.

“Will a resolution and words on paper get us to where we need to be? No. We need actions,” board vice president Terry Johnson said. “I agree it could be more put together. What I think we need to focus on is the spirit… and we can always come back at a different point to add or clarify.”

As for Anderson-Pickens’ termination, which drew dozens of protest letters with accusations that her punishment was more harsh than that of white teachers disciplined for incidents involving black students, Johnson said he would happily discuss the board’s action, if the teacher would give permission.

“When we start pointing fingers with each other and have divisiveness among ourselves, our community is viewing that,” he said. “I am very disappointed. I may not always agree… I can honestly say (board members) are not racist, and this community should be ashamed of itself for being so divisive.”

Trustee Richard Mukamal felt the resolution did not need action items. He said he looked forward to seeing initiatives and plans coming forward from staff that would guide the district.

“I think we can look at it as a resolution in two parts,” Rich said. “The first part is tonight, and we definitely need more to come, and I will look for that on a future agenda.” 

After the resolution passed, with Smith opposing, Weems offered a second motion to add a related item to the next meeting agenda, “so that we can all be involved in developing some actionable items out of this resolution.”

That motion also passed, with Smith opposing.

Review the meeting video at farmington.vod.castus.tv/vod

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