DETROIT — An apparent noose was found in a third-floor boys' bathroom at Royal Oak Middle School on Friday, more than a week after a video of some students at the school chanting "build the wall" went viral.
Royal Oak Superintendent Shawn Lewis-Lakin confirmed in an email sent by a public relations firm this afternoon that the apparent noose was found.
He said that at 2 p.m. Friday, teachers reported to the administration that there was a commotion in the bathroom.
"The administrators who responded discovered what appeared to be a noose hanging from a bathroom stall. The school immediately began an investigation of this incident and also contacted Royal Oak Police Department, which is conducting its own investigation," Lewis-Lakin said in the statement.
The appearance of a noose is often a symbol of racism and intimidation, directed primarily toward African Americans and hearkening back to a time when lynchings of blacks were common.
"All relevant school policies and procedures are being followed," Lewis-Lakin said. "At Royal Oak Schools, the safety of our students is our No. 1 priority. We take this incident very seriously. We will not tolerate intimidation, threats, harassment or bullying. We will be working closely with the Royal Oak Police Department and will update our staff and families as information becomes available.”
Royal Oak Police Sgt. Steve Teichow said the department "is actively investigating," but said he couldn't comment further until he has more information.
Lewis-Lakin's stance against threats, harassment and bullying is the same message he shared last week and Thursday night when he told the Board of Education in Royal Oak that the earlier incident was unacceptable. On Nov. 9 — the day after Donald Trump was elected president — a small group of students was videotaped chanting "build the wall," a nod to Trump's plans to build a wall to keep immigrants out of the U.S.
The incident last week was one of many examples in Michigan and the U.S. of bullying, threats and harassment that followed Trump's election. In DeWitt on the same day last week, there were reports that some middle school students locked arms and tried to block the pathway to minority students.
The incidents prompted State Superintendent Brian Whiston, who heads the Michigan Department of Education, and Agustin Arbulu, the director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, to issue a memo urging school leaders, teachers, parents and school staff to condemn post-election harassment or intimidation "regardless of message or motivation," and not wait for incidents to happen.
Erin Casey, a Royal Oak parent whose son is enrolled at the middle school, said the issues that the incidents have brought to light aren't unique to Royal Oak.
"Far from it. This is an issue that communities across ... face. And we're trying to be proactive about it."
She is one of the organizers of Together for One Royal Oak, a community-based group in the city that is, in part, working to ensure the safety and inclusion of all students in the district. She said the group loosely existed prior to the chanting incident last week but has become more formally organized since.
She said Lewis-Lakin has been receptive.
"All of this has absolutely broken his heart. He is a man who truly loves his students. He's been doing his best to ensure that all students are safe and that they're all included," Casey said.
Lewis-Lakin's response to the noose incident Friday, she said, "was immediate and it was transparent." She said all parents in the district received an email about an hour after the incident occurred.
Her group has been focused on ensuring that the curriculum in the district is "more representative of all cultures and races and ethnicities," that the district hires people that are more representative of the student body, and that the district addresses climate and engagement issues.
She said students at the school have been having conversations about the earlier incident. Her son, she said, has been saddened "to see the behavior of some students. And he's in full support of the student who took the video and her courage for alerting people to this issue."
"A majority of the students at that school absolutely do not support this," Casey said. "They are absolutely appalled by the behavior of a few. I think that it's a small minority that's really making time at the school for students of color, religious minorities, problematic. But I would say that, overall, that is not representative of the student body."
The school's principal, Todd Noonan, said as much in a video address to students Thursday. He told them that the chanting was unacceptable.
“Because this incident, brief though it may have been, made people feel unsafe, it was an incident that requires an unequivocal response from all of us. ROMS, this is not who we are. Everyone is welcome in our community of learners. We build bridges, we work together. We push each other, respect each other. We help each other. This is who we are.”