Michigan student alleges school officials ignored racist taunts

A Michigan high school student alleges she is being racially harassed at school by her classmates and that school officials ignored her pleas for action.

As first reported by the Livingston Daily, Tatayana Vanderlann, a Black student at Hartland Consolidated Schools in Livingston County, alleged district employees did not respond to racist comments and harassment directed at her in school.

Tatayana Vanderlaan

Vanderlaan, 18, alleges students have called her racist names and mocked her hair and appearance and that a teacher who heard the remarks did not intervene or act. She detailed the alleged incidents in a social media post this week. Vanderlaan was not immediately available for comment Friday.

” …These past three months have been the WORST months i’ve ever had to go through. like one day i was in class and people where sending these racist group of little boys my number and started calling me a “moon cricket”, “(N-word)”, “ugly negro woman” & making fun of my hair and my appearance. the WORST part is the teacher heard it all and said nothing,” the post said.

Vanderlaan says in the post she chose not to attend school for three weeks because she was scared to return as a young Black woman to a “school that is supposed to be ‘safe & stress free’ did not feel safe or comforting at all.”

Chuck Hughes, Hartland schools superintendent, said Friday the district is investigating Vanderlaan’s allegations and wants to make her feel safe and comfortable to return to school.

“We take the allegations seriously,” Hughes said. “We are in process of a  thorough investigation to determine what is factual and what may not be.”

Hughes said the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the matter. Hughes said he learned of Vanderlaan’s allegations from a media post on Feb. 26 and he spoke to Vanderlaan’s guardian this week about the matter. He has not spoken to the student, he said.

“Like I told her family, we are concerned about her. We are ensuring we have a safe environment for her to come back to school. She has not returned to school since earlier this week. She is a face-to-face learner,” Hughes said.

Hughes said he believes if a Hartland teacher heard students behave the way Vanderlaan has alleged, he or she would have done something about it. Hughes said the district will take action on individuals who need education or discipline, which could include suspension or an expulsion hearing.

“We will think about the process and what have we learned from it and how do we move forward to make sure our schools are safe environments for all children,” Hughes said.

On Friday, the director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights issued a statement applauding Vanderlaan for speaking out and vowing to investigate whether the student’s civil rights were violated.

“I am very troubled by the reports of what this student has been facing for months,” director James E. White said. “At a time when she should be navigating the day-to-day challenges of high school, she has had to deal with this unacceptable situation. I applaud Tatyana for her bravery in bringing this situation forward.”

White said his primary concern is for Vanderlaan’s safety and well-being and that any harassment is brought to an immediate end. His organization will examine whether the allegations were violations of the state’s civil rights law.

“I am also disturbed by reports that teachers and school administrators were unresponsive when this situation was first brought to their attention. The Department has been in contact with the school to assist in evaluating their policies and to offer training help,” White said.

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights, the operational arm of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, is charged with investigating and resolving bias complaints and working to prevent discrimination.

jchambers@detroitnews.com