Howell, Michigan isn't exactly known as a tolerant community. Howell is a small town, 96 percent white with a population of a little more than 9,000. So when a teacher was suspended for removing two students who expressed views that many deem intolerant, the rest of the country condemned the town, but town officials struggled to understand why.
Howell district school teacher Jay McDowell was suspended from teaching for one day without pay early in October when he removed two students from his classroom. One student wore a confederate flag belt, the other unleashed an anti-gay tirade that McDowell deemed intolerant hate speech, particularly since it was Spirit Day, a day dedicated to remember those fallen victim to anti-gay bullying and suicide.
Howell residents want to change the town's KKK reputation and many believe it can by refusing anti-gay speech in school
A 14-year-old gay student in the district, Graeme Taylor, told the MSNBC and the school board that it was a mistake to suspend McDowell because McDowell is 'saving lives.' McDowell,Taylor said, is a teacher, who I fully support and who " finally stood up and said something. I’ve been in rooms, in classrooms, where students have said the worst kinds of things. The kinds of things that helped drive me to a suicide attempt at nine-years-old. The kinds of things that hurt a lot.”
Taylor said that it’s not easy being gay in a place with such deep ties to racism, homophobia and hate and that McDowell should be commended for creating a safe space for all students in his classroom. Michigan's assistant state attorney general was fired last week after he unleashed a series of anti-gay bullying campaigns against University of Michigan's openly gay and newly elected student body president.
Howell is a small town in Michigan with a little more than 9,000 residents and close to a 96 percent white American population. KKK Imperial Grand Wizard, the late Robert Miles lived at near Howell. And during Miles's lifetime, the Howell area was considered the Midwest capital of the kln until Howell’s death over ten years ago. Howell was in the news in ’05 when a KKK group rallied off a Klan robe on Martin Luther King’s birthday.
At the community forum on diversity, school board officials remarked they were taken aback by the number of people from outside of Howell that spoke against the school board’s decision to suspend McDowell.
McDowell was suspended for one day and has since filed a grievance over his suspension. School board officials say that McDowell, who wore a pro-gay t-shirt to work that day, became the bully when he dismissed the student who vocalized his opinion from the classroom. After McDowell's story made national headlines, the Howell school district has vowed to keep all students safe.
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