“On Friday, a bulletin board taken over by the Youth Activism class that [we] are a part of was taken down,” Ann Arbor Open eighth graders Nori and Vedha wrote in a letter to the AAPS board of education in May. “What we thought was the superintendent and a board member coming into our school to celebrate our work turned into the board being taken down without any discussion.”
All year, Marie Scott’s students had been using the bulletin board to spotlight historically underrepresented groups. Displays celebrated Arab Americans, for example, and themes like Black History Month. Because May was Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, their display featured dozens of members of those communities.
They included photos of two AAPS trustees, Susan Baskett and Rebecca Lazarus—but not Ernesto Querijero, a Filipino.
On May 20, Querijero visited the school with superintendent Jeanice Swift. Neither has spoken publicly about what was said, but shortly after the visit everything posted on the board was removed.
On Facebook, discourse about the incident was all over the place. Some thought Querijero had abused his power as a trustee by demanding the board’s removal. Others saw his omission as an intentional and racist slight to a member of the Open community (Querijero’s kids attend the school). Still others vented about Swift, saying that she hadn’t been so responsive to their concerns.
A thread on the private Ann Arbor Schools Musings group quickly devolved into shame-and-blame tactics. Ko Shih, a longtime teacher at Open, posted the comment that garnered the most likes on the thread: “I find it interesting that as an Asian teacher at the school where this incident occurred, I don’t feel completely comfortable or safe making any comment on this thread because of the way many people are reacting, yet many on this thread are claiming to be attempting to make BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color] feel they can make their voices heard. As a Taiwanese American, I am offended that an issue about a bulletin board celebrating my culture has turned into this. As a teacher, we talk about cyberbullying and how it affects others. I wish people would take a minute to think about how we treat each other on social media.”
After hearing several public comments on the removal at the May 25 board meeting, trustee Jessica Kelly assured the speakers “that the recent actions do not represent this board.”
“You are right,” Querijero responded. “Those actions do not represent the board. What those actions do represent is a person and a family who’s been marginalized at that building. That’s all I’ll say. By more than just any particular body, but by some people in particular, and I’m curious, very curious, to see what resolution will come.”
Board trustee Bryan Johnson apologized for the removal, calling it “shameful” and adding that “it hurts our credibility as an impartial body when trustees behave in this fashion. I think it’s self-serving and not aligned with public service.”
To that, Querijero responded: “I myself am a person of color. I myself am an activist. So I know very clearly that change does not come with silence. You actually have to say something and do something to get the change that you need.”
Swift returned to Open twice to deal with the furor, meeting with principal Karen Siegel and dropping in on Scott’s class. The bulletin board was eventually recreated—without explanation, and still without Querijero.