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Department of Education launches investigation into Paw Paw Public Schools

Protesters holding signs in Paw Paw
Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
Paw Paw Public School supporters protesting to keep the Redskins mascot name in 2017.

The U.S. Department of Education has launched an investigation into a southwest Michigan school district.

Paw Paw Public Schools is no stranger to controversy. The district has been under fire for its mascot name and image – the Redskins – for years. Now, the district is facing a federal investigation after the ACLU of Michigan filed a complaint back in January.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is handling the investigation. A spokesperson for the OCR said in a statement that the office is investigating “possible discrimination on the basis of race.”

More from the OCR:

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) can confirm that it opened an investigation on Dec. 5, 2019, at the Paw Paw Public School District (MI) for possible discrimination (harassment) on the basis of race. Because this is an open investigation, however, OCR cannot provide additional information or confirm case-specific details.

The ACLU’s complaint alleges the school district "maintains an environment that is hostile to a variety of racial, religious, ethnic and immigrant groups."

Mark Fancher, Racial Justice Project staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan, says the school district has refused to take steps to make the school more welcoming.

More from Fancher:

The school district has stubbornly refused to even discuss possible changes to make its programs more welcoming for Native Americans and other people of color, making this OCR investigation a victory. We are hopeful that federal scrutiny of the district will prompt concern that leads to reform. The atmosphere in the school district and surrounding community is toxic with respect to this issue. Too many people have suffered because of racial intimidation and resulting fear.

Back in 2017, the Paw Paw school board voted against changing the mascot name from the controversial “Redskins” name despite pressure from groups like the ACLU. 

School Superintendent Rick Reo said in a statement that the district is fully cooperating with the investigation:

Paw Paw Public Schools is fully cooperating with the Office of Civil Rights investigation. We will continue to focus on educating kids and try to avoid letting the ongoing debate over the school mascot distract us from our mission or impact the high-quality learning environment we strive to create each and every day.

Bryce Huffman was Michigan Radio’s West Michigan Reporter and host of Same Same Different. He is currently a reporter for Bridge Detroit.
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