6 October 2014
A Letter to the Dearborn Heights District 7 School Board
The following is a letter written by Annapolis High School senior Atiya Haynes to the District 7 Board of Education in Dearborn Heights, Michigan following her suspension for possession of a pocket knife at a high school football game.
UPDATE 10/13/14 — Atiya Haynes's case was reassessed at a school board meeting on October 13 at 7 p.m. The board suspended her for 180 days.
To Dearborn Heights District 7 Board of Education,
This past summer I had the opportunity of becoming a regional intern for the Michigan Roundtable. This internship serves as being a catalyst for change and to empower individual efforts to advance equity and opportunity for all. Aside from making me a more conscious person, this internship has made me aware of the societal boundaries designed to keep me stagnant.
An issue that is plaguing schools across the nation is the School-to-Prison Pipeline. This horrendous system can be compared to a fishing net with a specific agenda to catch fish, but with the fish there are whales, dolphins and seals being captured. This example simply demonstrates that these policies disproportionately target pupils with impoverished histories of abuse, neglect, or learning disabilities. Due to the No-Tolerance Policies, there have been severe punishments imposed on many students including myself, regardless of circumstances. Since the enactment of the No-Tolerance Policy, suspension has increased dramatically from 1.7 million in 1974 to 3.1 million in 2000 — and have most dramatically impacted children of depleted socioeconomic standing and history of reduced educational opportunities. Ultimately, the School-to-Prison Pipeline is unethically backed by the No-Tolerance Policy. Both systems consume certain students more than others, and are frameworks used to eliminate unwanted behaviors, yet leave students destitute and option-less, on the fast track to juvenile courts. These disciplinary approaches aren’t holistic and impact students negatively, making visits to the principal's office a thing of the past. Instead of washing our hands of the “troubled” students, there should be initiation to creating supportive but firm environments by advocating more stern but publicized policies, violence prevention and early intervention, and behavioral support.
A lump sum of students who face expulsion from school are sent back to their reality of poverty, angst, unhappiness, and neighborhoods filled with negative influence. Many people who are unnecessarily expelled because of the No-Tolerance Policy become another statistic, get behind in their studies, drop out, and commit crimes in their community.
I’ve been a student in District 7 for all of twelve years. District 7 has instilled in me drive and determination, and for that I am grateful. Due to the positive outcome of my educational progression, my family has sacrificed to send me half an hour away from home, to continue on with the opportunity of higher learning. I have hopes of one day attending Howard University and becoming a broadcast journalist, and I’m hoping that my shortcomings don’t hinder my dreams to do so. As the eldest of seven children, I’ve worked so hard to set an example for my siblings and my ultimate failure in life would be to let down the people I love. I am first generation in the United States from family. By the third grade my grandmother had to leave school to attain a job to feed her family. My loved ones have done the best they could with what they have, and I have been afforded opportunities that my parents could only wish for. To not be able to continue on with my education would be an indescribable and shameful disposition.
Friday, September 27, 2014. It was on the seemingly normal night that my friends and I were preparing ourselves for our last homecoming game as “Cougars.” We arrived at the Pardee Elementary football field roughly around 7:15 p.m. Upon arrival at the football field, we were admitted entry to the event free of search. This public event could have easily allowed entry to actual threats such as the six registered sex offenders surrounding the district, or Theodore Wafer, who shot 19-year-old Renisha McBride last November in Dearborn Heights. Nonetheless, towards the end of the night, a few friends and I went to the bathroom, and it was then that I smelled the pungent odor of marijuana. Unconcerned because of my clear conscience, I proceeded. As we headed towards the exit of the bathroom, Ms. Howard was awaiting us so that she could search our bags, pockets, and sniff our hands and mouths. There was a girl before me who hesitated to open her bag, but Ms. Howard insisted and proceeded to unzip every compartment of the girl's backpack and searched inside. At that moment my friend and I whispered to each other, “Isn’t she supposed to dump it?” After not finding anything on the first girl, she moved on to me. I had no reason to be nervous. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong and didn’t have anything illegal on my person. Ms. Howard opened my purse, and I assumed it would be dumped into the sink or the shelf provided above it, so I cooperated. Instead Ms. Howard placed her hands inside my purse and proceeded to check the contents inside. She found a pocketknife that was sold from the manufacturer as a three-inch blade. I had no idea the pocketknife was even in my bag and didn’t really have worrisome regards because I didn’t see any harm in carrying it. I knew that even if I forgot the knife in my bag, it wouldn’t be flaunted or boasted about as some sort of an accessory.
Upon the time of receiving the pocket knife I didn’t know that it would constitute as a dangerous or lethal weapon. According to the Revised School Code (Excerpt) Act 451 of 1976, Sec.1311 (2), “A school board is not required to expel a pupil for possessing a weapon if the pupil did not know or have reason to know that the object possessed by the pupil constituted as a dangerous weapon.” Also, Act 254, Imd. Eff. Nov. 29, 1993, “750.225 Firearm or dangerous weapon; carrying with unlawful intent” states that, “any person who, with intent to use the same unlawfully against the person of another.” Unlawful meaning to use illegally, the only way the knife would be used, would be in the case of life or death self-defense. Which is not unlawful, and backed by the Second Amendment that states “the right of the people to bear arms should not be infringed.” “The right to self defense is a natural individual right that pre-exists the government.” I had no intent on using the pocket knife because I didn’t know I had it at the time, and the only reason I would ever use it would be in a life or death defense situation. Using a knife on even the most abominable individual would be my very last and final resort. After the pocket knife was found and confiscated, the search had ended and the marijuana was seemingly no longer a top priority. Ms. Howard’s focus now became the pocket knife. After notifying the police and being told by the officer that it wasn’t illegal, but should not have been on school grounds, Ms. Howard pressed the situation and called Mr. Scott. At that time, Ms. Howard notified me that Mr. Scott ordered me to leave the premises. I was immediately kicked out of the game with no time to explain myself.
I have seen the evolution in demographics dramatically alter in my school district, and I have also seen the tolerance for my fellow peers reduce in the most unreasonable way. For example, using profanity and having two-day suspensions for each word. Unquestionably, there is a time and place for everything, but when facilitators use profanity it goes unspoken about and is taken with tolerated leisure. Not being able to explain prospects from all viewpoints isn’t fair and has caused grief in the lives of numerous students. It makes students feel uncared for, and like another number in a sea of many.
I am from southwest Detroit, one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country, notoriously known for gang violence. I’ve carried mace in the past in case of emergency, but it wasn’t until I started riding my bike to the Dearborn Civic Center where I’m a lifeguard, which is an hour commute (biking), that my grandfather handed me a pocket knife. I hesitated at first because I would never want a knife to be a resort, then I remembered hearing about recent attacks at a local park that I had to pass in order to get to both work and school. Within minutes of my house, there have been women raped, abducted and murdered with the perpetrator still free. Sixteen-year-old Christopher Walker was fatally shot in my very neighborhood. Numerous other homicides that have happened within recent years include 21-year-old Matthew Landry, 20-year-old Courtney Smith, ten-year-old Raylond McCulley and 18-month-old Tamyah Vaughn. For my own peace of mind and reassurance I felt that a mere pocketknife was the least of my worries. I in no way had any malicious intent.
I understand and acknowledge my irresponsibility in the situation; I should have educated myself on what was and wasn’t acceptable on school grounds. I had become so accustomed to feeling the need to protect myself that I became careless. Unfortunately it is easy to do so when I don’t have the luxury of living around the block from my school. In order to get to Annapolis, I have to pass through multiple cities, and when my car actually decides to work it still isn’t reliable transportation. In order to ensure security, from destination to destination, my family and I mutually agreed that certain forms of protection are necessary. This experience has definitely made me more cognizant. I truly hope that my sincerity is taken into account as well as my academic strides. I am devoted to learning and have pushed myself throughout my academic career, but above all, I am a teenager, with a juvenile mindset and the preeminence to make mistakes. The No-Tolerance Policy eliminates what it means to truly be a child, what it means to learn from your mishaps, and what it is to pick up the pieces because this policy throws those pieces into the wind. This is a classic case of “wrong place, wrong time,” and I acknowledge that I have made a mistake by not making myself aware of certain conduct codes.
I want to, again, apologize for my heedlessness and blatant irresponsibility, but at this moment I ask for sympathy as well as compassion. I always envisioned my senior year to be amazing, and the most of my worries to be what colleges I got accepted into and how my date for prom corsage didn’t exactly match my magnificent gown. Instead I’m at home behind a computer trying to creatively word a paper that holds the destiny of what is to come.
I did not have bad intentions; I’m a dedicated student, in advanced placement courses, dual-enrolled, I work two jobs and have aspirations beyond oratory expression. I just don’t want my efforts thus far to be cut short or even be terminal for such an incident like this. I understand the seriousness of the situation, but I just don’t want it to be my ultimate determining factor. If I am afforded the opportunity, I will make sure to be aware of the things on my person, educate myself extensively on what is proper conduct regarding school grounds, and make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.
Atiya A. Haynes
//Atiya Haynes is a 17-year-old senior currently attending Annapolis High School in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. She is an aspiring journalist with hopes to attend Howard University. Atiya believes that no matter how difficult or trying a situation is, there is always a way to persevere.