News Story

New Superintendent Tells Leland Families, Students To Join Black Lives Matter And 'Protest'

Some Leelanau county residents resent the implications and have questions for the school board

Some parents and community members are upset about a letter the new Leland Public Schools superintendent sent out to the community ahead of the school year on the subject of their “unintentional roles in white privilege.” The letter also declared that residents need to “examine the disparity in our experiences and the underlying reasons that have created the privilege we who are white enjoy.”

Leland Public Schools Superintendent Stephanie Long said in her July letter to students and parents that because of “recent events and the ensuing turmoil in our country, I wanted to reach out and share my position regarding the protests and demonstrations that have been occurring these last several weeks.”

“As uncomfortable and sometimes scary as it is, we need to question and reflect on our own privileges that have allowed us to stay immune to the struggles of our Black neighbors,” Long wrote. “Why is it that white people in our community move through the world so differently from our fellow citizens who are Black? We need to examine the disparity in our experiences and the underlying reasons that have created the privilege we who are white enjoy.”

She asserted that the positions she was espousing were those of the International Baccalaureate program upon which the school district is based.

Long then instructed parents that it was time for “adults to stop talking and defending our beliefs” and encouraged the students to challenge the authority of their parents saying that “every great social reform movement started with young people.”

The letter then provided a list of ways she wanted to the school community to get involved in her anti-racism initiative.

The superintendent suggested that students and their parents join a Black Lives Matter chapter and attend a local protest.

Her letter also recommended her schools’ families make financial contributions to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) or National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and said they should get involved in the Innocence Project.

The letter was not well-received by many who live within the Leland Public Schools’ district.

Joan Ursu, whose four children graduated from Leland High School, sent a letter to the superintendent and the members of the school board that questioned who had authorized Long to make her personal position on race relations the guiding principle for the entire school system.

“While you do make it clear in your opening paragraph that you are providing the community your ‘position’ on the causes of ‘protests and demonstrations,’ you go on to state that the opinions expressed in your letter are, de facto, those of the International Baccalaureate program,” Ursu wrote.

“Perhaps this is entirely so,” she continued in her letter. “If it is, I can say with confidence that this is news to many parents in the Leland Public School system and cause for serious questioning on what, exactly, the IB program really is and whether they want their children involved in it. You should know that in explanations given to the community over the years about what the IB program entailed, it had never been posited that the ‘position’ taken by the LPS superintendent would define the scope of learning and agenda for the upcoming academic year – particularly when that agenda involves controversial and evolving societal issues.”

“Presumably, the board authorized your letter before it was sent and they are in agreement with you that the ‘position’ of the superintendent forms the basis for the scope of learning for the IB program in any academic year. Again, this is news to many of us in the LPS community and we would ask the board to respond and clarify,” Ursu added.

The members of the Leland school board were copied on the letter sent to Long.

Ursu then went on to call the tone of the letter itself “insulting” and revealed that one of her children whom she raised in the Leland school system is black.

“On a personal level, I was not at all prepared for what your letter conveyed,” this mother wrote. “While I am here only speaking for myself, I find that the language used and the tone itself insulting -- painting with a broad brush the idea that those in our community, whom you acknowledge at the outset you do not know, are racist and ‘privileged’ by virtue of our skin color alone. It is beyond insulting. It is untrue.”

“Again, speaking only for my family, we have experienced the love for a child without regard to color,” she continued. “She is as much a part of our family as our children born to us. We love her blackness. But the color of her skin does not define her.”

Ursu went on to say her daughter’s accomplishments were earned on her merit and not her color.

“Your focus on ‘racism and injustice’ is not the experience of all people of color, no matter how earnestly you believe it is,” she told the superintendent. “This obsession with reducing people to their skin color is abhorrent to me. And forcing that worldview onto children in the school environment, even more so.”

Ben LaCross, a business owner in the school district, called the timing of the new superintendent’s letter to the school community “peculiar.”

LaCross told Michigan Capitol Confidential that two weeks before Long sent out that letter, the school board voted to eliminate all Spanish language education, despite the fact 10 percent of the school community is Hispanic.

He said he wife was the senior Spanish teacher and got laid off when that decision was made, but then the school district turned around and hired a part-time elementary school teacher to replace her.

LaCross said the move made him question Long’s commitment to advancement for the entire black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) community despite what she said in her letter addressing racism.

Long didn't respond to an email seeking comment.