The Dearborn School District recently named four candidates to fill the position of Schools Superintendent. But in a school district where American Arabs are among the largest constituents, none of the four candidates are of Arab heritage. Michigan’s ADC Chapter protested to the district’s board president that the failure of including an Arab candidate could be viewed as discrimination. The issue has created a battle between ADC and Dearborn public schools
By Ray Hanania
(UPDATED) Most of the Michigan news media is focused on the widening political battle between Democrats and Republicans to control the Michigan State Board of Education.
Dearborn’s highly regarded School’s Superintendent, Brian Whiston, was selected by a 7 to 1 vote of the Michigan State School Board to become the state’s new school superintendent. The State School Board is overwhelming Democratic and the choice didn’t sit well with Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Snyder or state Republican leaders.
Schools often become the patronage base for politicians as they consist of powerful unions but growing public dissatisfaction with statewide education performances. The Democrats side with the unions and teacher’s rights while Republicans side with the issue of improving student performances.
It’s a fight replicated in states across the country.
But in the shadow of Michigan’s fight, many Arabs were left puzzled by the fact that the Dearborn School District, which Whiston is leaving to take the state job, released the names of four finalists to succeed Whiston that failed to include one qualified American Arab.
Race is also a major consideration in America and always has been, but usually involves Blacks, Hispanics and Whites battling for public offices and senior level administrative jobs, again with party politics shifting with Democrats siding with Blacks and Hispanics and Republicans siding with Whites.
Dearborn is considered the capitol of the nearly 5 million Americans of Arab heritage. With a population of nearly 100,000 residents, about 41,000 Dearborn residents are of Arab heritage, but more importantly, more than 80 percent of the school district’s 19,450 students are Arab.
Yet, the school district doesn’t have an Arab school’s superintendent. It’s an issue that ADC Michigan believes is significant.
So when the school board released its list of four candidates to fill the vacancy for the district’s superintendent and none of the candidates were Arab, the process raised concerns. The four initial candidates are Dr. Glenn Maleyko, executive director of human resources at Dearborn Public Schools, Dr. Gail Shenkman, associate superintendent at Dearborn Public Schools, Dr. John Van Wagoner, associate superintendent general education at Shiawassee Regional Educational Services District, and Dr. Ron Wilson, former superintendent in Cass City and Howell Public Schools.
According to media reports, the list of four was narrowed down to two finalists, Maleyko and Van Wagoner, who are both White.
ADC Michigan Chapter President and attorney Fatina Abdrabboh told Dearborn School Board President Aimee Schoelles in a letter this week that she and members of the American Arab community are disappointed by the failure of the selection process to include even one Arab American candidate.
“As you should be aware, Michigan benefits from an abundance of successful and highly qualified Arab Americans in every industry. The recent news about the Dearborn School Board’s consideration of only four candidates, none of whom are of Arab descent to the final stage of the hiring process, is highly alarming to our organization,” Abdrabboh wrote.
“It is our understanding that the Dearborn School Board has relied upon the recommendation of an outside HR firm to identify, recruit, and recommend candidates. We have serious concerns and questions regarding this firm’s effectiveness. ADC is confident that qualified and capable candidates with the same background as the majority of your student body exist. The Dearborn Board of education, through its agents and employees, has abridged its duties and responsibilities by failing to identify and promote qualified candidates who represent the student body.”
Other Arab community leaders were not so quick to criticize the process, but saying that it needs more transparency.
“How many candidates who are Arab applied?” one Greater Detroit American Arab activist asked, noting that Schoelles predecessor, Hussein Berry, is American Arab. “Aimee Schoelles has been a very strong advocate of Arab rights. The school board has much concern for the needs of American Arabs. We need to look at the facts and see what happened rather than accusing anyone of discrimination. The process needs to be more transparent.”
Fatinah argued in her letter that “research shows students who attend a school system devoid of directors and administrators who look like them, share their values, and reflect their culture, are bound to feel alienated and disenfranchised at their own school. The educational value of your public schools will be greatly undermined if you fail to enhance it with diversity and ground it in an inclusive culture.”
Fatinah urged Schoelles “to reevaluate the current superintendent hiring process and its results,” noting in clear language that a Federal discrimination lawsuit could be imminent.
“Not only does this recent development in the superintendent hiring process concern us on an educational front, but it implicates significant legal issues of exclusionary policies, and preservation of a glass ceiling for Arab Americans,” Fatinah wrote.
“ADC Michigan is aware that there are qualified applicants for the position who are of Arab descent and that if they were screened because of their racial and/or religious background, this is a violation of state and federal laws. Discrimination on the basis of race and religion, among other categories, in the hiring, promotion, and employment is prohibited under Michigan law in the Elliot Larson Civil Rights Act and under Federal law in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We will proceed to open an investigation if the matter is not timely addressed.
The Arab Daily News reached out to Schoelles for a response, but have not received one yet. But Schoelles responded to ADC in its own letter dated June 9.
Schoelles expressed surprise at ADC’s “sudden interest” in the Dearborn Public Schools, and denounced the letter saying she was “highly offended at the condescending tone of your letter.” She even got personal and attacked Abdrabboh as being inexperienced. She questioned how ADC would have known about who applied for the position asserting that the submissions were confidential.
“To address your misguided accusations regarding Dearborn Public Schools, I would like to present you with some statistics,” Schoelles responded.
“Please note that Arab American is not an official class according to the federal standards, so we are unable to give conclusive data as we are not allowed to require disclosure by our employees. Currently out of approximately 67 administrators (Principals and Assistant Principals) 31 are of Arabic descent (47 %). Our Central Office cabinet (which serve as advisors and meet with the superintendent weekly) is composed of 15 people of which 3 are of Arabic descent (20 %). Our teaching staff is a little more difficult to break down due to the reasons stated above; however, I challenge you to walk into any building to see the diversity of our staff, especially when it comes to Arab Americans.”
Schoelles challenged ADC to file a Federal lawsuit.
“I welcome it,” Schoelles wrote. “While I am confident it will be a waste of hard earned community and tax dollars maybe it will give your organization an opportunity to learn the real facts about our district and the progress that has been made over the past couple of decades.”
Despite the tough tone of the letter, ADC published it on their own website.
The controversy could continue for the next several months as Whiston is expected to remain at the district until a new superintendent is chosen, and not take the state job until later this summer.