‘You’re going to be a loser in life’ – Michigan teacher accused of racially profiling Black students

Francis Akhalbey August 31, 2020
Michele Macke has been accused of creating a racially hostile environment for Black students in her class -- Photo via WXYZ

A White math teacher at Pioneer High School in Michigan has been accused of profiling Black students in her class and creating a racially hostile environment for them.

Michele Macke has allegedly “bullied, humiliated, and singled out Black Students” at the school for “unequal treatment for numerous years.”

This is contained in a 14-page complaint filed with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights by the Civil Rights Litigation Initiative (CRLI) at the University of Michigan Law School on behalf of student Makayla Kelsey, as well as some of her mates on Monday.

“This summer, an ever-increasing array of Americans are realizing what Black Americans have always known: this country has spent generations institutionalizing racism in every facet of American life, including education,” CRLI student attorney Liza Davis said, according to WXYZ. “We call on Pioneer to listen to the brave students who have come forward to tell their stories, and to rectify the vile racism pervading its environment. Black Lives Matter.”

The complaint gave several instances where Macke, who has taught at the school for 20 years, allegedly humiliated Black students, including posting the grades of those who performed poorly in her class on the Smart Board – an action the complaint says is a violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Macke is also accused of using “coded, race-based insults” against a Black graduate in front of her friends during an incident in 2016 when she was a student.

“In 2016, Ariel Yancey, a Black 2020 graduate, and her friends were waiting for the bus. Ms. Macke approached them, said they were loitering, then threatened to get someone to ‘make them leave,’ even as the students attempted to explain why they were there. When Ms. Yancey told her friends that they should just leave so they did not have to deal with Ms. Macke anymore, Ms. Macke said, among other insults, ‘You don’t listen in class, your teachers say you’re failing.. . . [You are] a hooligan waiting to be a delinquent in life. . . . You’re going to be a loser in life,’” the complaint alleges.

The school’s Black Student Union, which shared an online petition in February asking for her removal, also accuses her of being hostile towards its activities. According to the union, Macke refused to allow her class to participate in its Black History Month assembly, calling it “a waste of time,” not “diverse enough,” adding that “she wished they had talked more about white people who made contributions to Black people.”

The complaint further accuses Macke of insulting Black students and their families, citing a 2019 incident with Makayla Kelsey when she resumed school after being away as a result of a chronic health condition. Kelsey’s condition also reportedly aggravated after witnessing the death of a friend.

“’Does your mom have a plan for your life? Does your mom work? What does she do for a living? Does your mom just drop you off and continue with her life?’ In late November of 2019, Makayla Kelsey faced these questions after returning to school from an absence related to her chronic health condition. Rather than treating Ms. Kelsey with compassion, Ms. Macke humiliated and punished Ms. Kelsey in front of her peers,” the complaint said.

Though Kelsey confronted Macke over her comments during an Achievement Team meeting, school administrators “refused to believe her” despite saying she felt bullied.

“Instead of using the meeting to provide Ms. Kelsey with support as she struggled to maintain her health and cope with the loss of her friend, the administrators spoke over Ms. Kelsey, declared her truant, and attempted to refer her to an alternative school.”

The complaint added: “On another occasion, after a friend of Ms. Kelsey’s answered a math question correctly, Ms. Macke told her that she was too smart to be hanging out with her ‘scummy’ friends, while looking at Ms. Kelsey and another student.”

The CRLI is calling for the termination of Macke’s employment as a teacher at the school. They also recommend the school bring in an “external civil rights organization to conduct a thorough investigation of the atmosphere Black students face, and make recommendations” and the creation of a “system that encourages students to make complaints about bias.”

“High school is hard enough without being bullied by teachers,” Kelsey told WXYZ. “All students, not just white students, deserve a welcoming and supportive environment.”

A spokesperson for the school sent a statement in response to the allegations, saying: “In the Ann Arbor Public Schools, we stand strongly against any and all acts of racism, bigotry and bias. We will not comment publicly on personnel processes or pending litigation.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: August 31, 2020


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