A parent in Michigan’s Saline Area Schools sparked fierce backlash at a recent meeting on diversity, equity and inclusion when he asked a Hispanic parent why he didn’t “stay in Mexico.”
Parent Adrian Iraola was detailing the torment his son endured in the school district at the Monday meeting when he was confronted by another parent, Tom Burtell, Mlive reports.
Iraola, owner of Chela’s Restaurant & Taqueria, described how his son was harassed with nicknames like taco, enchilada, and nacho, and how the torment motivated the boy to defy his doubters with a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University.
“I remember when I went to his bedroom to say good night and he was crying because of the abuse that he was enduring in this school system,” Iraola said.
That’s when Burtell interjected: “Why didn’t you stay in Mexico?”
The comment elicited gasps and ridicule.
“What?” one person said.
“You need to leave,” a woman shouted.
“That’s indicative of what our kids are experiencing,” parent Brian Wright, a black man, told the crowd.
“Out! Out! You leave!” another parent yelled.
“Let me answer the question, why I didn’t stay in Mexico,” Iraola said. “Because this is the greatest country in the world.”
“But you’re complaining about being here,” Burtell continued. “He’s complaining about being here.”
The meeting was intended as a forum to build unity following a controversy involving white football players who invited their black teammates to a Snapchat conversation that included messages like “WHITE POWER” and “THE SOUTH WILL RISE AGAIN,” Mlive reports.
Wright said his son was one of the black players targeted in the Snapchat debacle, FOX 2 reports.
“I said ‘why do you want to stay?’ he says if I leave then they win, right?” Wright. “That’s showing the courage of the black kids that come to school every day and again we as parents have to figure out how do we show them our support.”
Burtell argued the racist Snapchat conversation shouldn’t involve the school district because it involved off-campus activities, and alleged whites also face discrimination.
“You’ve got black racism all the time. Try being white and walk in a black neighborhood and see what happens. You’re complaining about situations and these incidents where somebody made a tweet, but nobody’s hurt yet, nobody got hurt that was off-campus,” he said.
In a letter to parents, Superintendent Scot Graden described the Snapchat messages as “deplorable” and said officials “strongly denounce the actions and words of these students.”
“I’ve been in this district for a long time and work hard to try to make sure all of our students have positive experiences and when parents share the negative experiences their children have had at times, it’s painful and it truly does motivate me to say ‘we can and will do better,'” he said on Monday.
Graden said the district will work through the issue with its Diversity Equity Inclusion Committee and plans to conduct additional teacher training to ensure staff respond immediately to racist incidents.
Students involved in the Snapchat messages, meanwhile, will undergo restorative justice discipline.
Wright and other parents believe the district should do more.
“I don’t think that they are fast enough, to be honest with you. I understand the restorative process and I understand DNI training and I think that’s good for the long term. In the meantime, you have black kids that are in the schools today and they’re being racially harassed and intimidated on a daily basis,” Wright said.