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US Attorney says it has preliminarily resolved discrimination investigation into Hartland schools

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan announced in Tuesday that it had preliminarily resolved its investigation into allegations of race discrimination by the Hartland Consolidated School District.

The office initiated an investigation under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act based on a complaint filed in 2021 by a then-student in the district and her guardian, who alleged that the District failed to address pervasive race-based harassment of the student and other Black students in the district. 

At issue was an incident in March of 2021 in which 18-year-old Tatayana Vanderlaan posted to Facebook about repeated harassment she said she had endured at Hartland High School, including being called the n-word and being ridiculed about her hair and her appearance.

After that post went viral, Vanderlaan said she had to be escorted off campus due to a threat of being “lynched.” The Livingston County Sheriff’s Office then conducted an investigation, which resulted in stalking and assault charges filed against four teens.

At the time, authorities said  the investigation was looking at allegations of race discrimination “specifically to the District’s handling of alleged incidents of student-on-student harassment based on students’ race.” It’s believed that DOJ investigators interviewed at least 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.

According to the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan, the Hartland district “cooperated fully with the investigation and voluntarily took a number of steps to address concerns that were raised during the investigation, including creating a School Board-level Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee, instituting training for staff and students, revising internal policies and practices regarding the investigation process for allegations of harassment, and adding counseling and social work staff. “

The District also agreed to take additional steps during the 2022-23 school year, such as conducting a district-wide climate survey to assess the presence and effect of harassment based on race, developing a plan to address the concerns identified by the survey, and increasing measures to learn of, investigate, and respond to complaints of racial harassment.

“Students deserve a safe school environment where they can learn and grow without facing racial harassment.  In districts like Hartland, where students of color are only a small percentage of the student body, schools must make an extra effort to ensure that all students are comfortable reporting harassment and other forms of discrimination and be confident that the adults in the building will keep them safe,” said United States Attorney Dawn N. Ison. “We commend the Hartland Consolidated School District for acknowledging their obligations to remove barriers to ensure that all students can fully engage in the educational process.”

Hartland Superintendent Chuck Hughes said they are pleased the DOJ worked collaboratively with then to resolve the matter.

“While there was no finding of ignoring behaviors that we were aware of, we agree that monitoring the culture of our district is always important,” he stated. “We believe that every child deserves to feel safe and supported and will work to ensure this without exception.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office says it will review the District’s compliance with the terms of the resolution during and at the end of the 2022-23 school year, and if the terms are found to have been satisfied, it will close its investigation. 

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