ANN ARBOR — The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights opened a formal investigation into the Ann Arbor Public Schools district on Tuesday, Jan. 23. The investigation will look for signs of discrimination over shared ancestry, a category that includes racial and nationality-based discrimination. The investigation comes after the Michigan chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, a nonprofit working to encourage an understanding of Islam and advance civil liberties, filed a complaint with the OCR against the AAPS in December. The complaint was over an alleged Islamophobic incident at Tappan Middle School on Nov. 15, 2023.
According to the December complaint, an Arab/Palestinian Muslim eighth grader at Tappan was waiting to see his guidance counselor when he asked the school’s sixth grade counselor if he could get a drink of water. When that counselor declined his request, the student inquired why. The counselor allegedly replied, “I do not negotiate with terrorists.” The complaint alleges that the counselor dismissed the student’s concerns when he expressed his discomfort.
“It is also our understanding that the counselor, upon being made aware by (the student) of his discomfort and the idea that he believed the comment to be biased and inappropriate based on his identity, instead of apologizing, the counselor then recruited others in the office to validate her comments by asking around if other counselors and staff ever said that phrase,” the complaint read. “To the utter shock and embarrassment of the student, other counselors and staff indicated that they say that phrase all of the time, seemingly legitimizing the discriminatory remarks of the sixth grade counselor.”
In a press release obtained by The Arab American News, CAIR-MI staff attorney Amy V. Doukoure said she was pleased the office was taking the matter seriously.
“We are pleased that the Office of Civil Rights is taking this matter seriously and hope that it leads to some resolution that will ensure that no other students will have to attend school with educators that make biased comments,” Doukoure said. “An investigation of this nature can have serious implications for the school district if it is found that they acted inappropriately, and we hope that the school district will finally recognize the seriousness of this matter and the harm that it caused the student.”
Andrew Cluley, AAPS director of communications, told the Michigan Daily in an email that the school district does not comment on pending legal matters.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education wrote in an email to the Michigan Daily that the department does not comment on pending investigations.
The OCR began publishing a list of pending investigations into shared ancestry in November 2023, as a response to the increase in anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and anti-Arab discrimination following the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel and subsequent Israeli attacks on Gaza.
According to the OCR’s website, after the department receives a complaint, it determines whether to open an investigation on a case-by-case basis by reviewing the written information it receives. It then evaluates each individual allegation, deciding whether it has legal authority over each one. Once the investigation is formally opened, the DOE collects information through a variety of means.
“During the investigation, OCR is a neutral fact-finder,” the website read. “OCR will collect and analyze relevant evidence from the complainant, the recipient and other sources, as appropriate. OCR will ensure that the actions it takes in investigations are legally sufficient, and that its determinations are support by the evidence.”
— The Michigan Daily. Edited for style.