Hartland Schools Under DOJ Investigation As Students Arraigned In Racial Incident
July 3, 2021
By Jon King / email@example.com
The U.S. Department of Justice is conducting an investigation of the Hartland Consolidated School District.
Hartland Superintendent Chuck Hughes tells WHMI that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is involved in investigating allegations of race discrimination "specifically to the District's handling of alleged incidents of student-on-student harassment based on students' race."
That issue came to the forefront earlier this year when a Black high school student, 18-year-old Tatayana Vanderlaan, posted on social media that she had been persistently racially harassed by several students, including being called the n-word. In one instance she said she was ridiculed about her hair and her appearance, and that a teacher “heard it all and said nothing.” She said she chose not to attend school for about three weeks because she was scared to return as a young Black woman in a school that is supposed to be “safe & stress free” but “did not feel safe or comforting at all.”
After the post went viral, she said that threats to lynch were then made. A subsequent investigation by the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office resulted in charges being filed May 24th by the Livingston County Prosecutor’s Office against four students. Three of the four were arraigned this week. 17-year-olds Dominic Tyner and Corbyn Smith were arraigned on stalking charges Wednesday by 53rd District Court Magistrate Jerry Sherwood, while 18-year-old Benjamin Elliott was arraigned on charges of assault and battery. All three have pretrial hearings scheduled July 26th in front of Judge Shauna Murphy. There is no information available on the fourth student, a 16-year-old juvenile.
While it was known that the Michigan Department of Civil Rights had consulted with the district on the issue, it was only recently learned that federal authorities were also looking into the situation. Hughes says that so far, the U.S. Department of Justice has interviewed about a dozen staff members in an effort to determine if the district violated Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which authorizes the Attorney General to address certain equal protection violations based on race, color, national origin, sex, and religion in public schools and institutions of higher education.
Hughes tells WHMI that he feels the DOJ investigative team “has used professional integrity in this process as they actively seek to understand all sides of the allegations in a thoughtful and deliberate manner.” In his most recent message to parents, Hughes said while he believes they will not find evidence of Hartland or its staff being indifferent to the needs of students, “concerns regarding racism, harassment, bullying behavior, or discrimination (which is what the Livingston County Sheriff Office determined in their investigation) we will not know until a final report is presented.”
A request for comment from the Department of Justice was made, but has yet to be returned.