GB parents offer support for schools’ equity efforts following backlash

GRAND BLANC — With residents showing up to support the Grand Blanc Community Schools’ efforts to promote equity, diversity and inclusion, last week’s Board of Education meeting had a distinctly different tenor than the previous two meetings.

High school English teacher Nick Popadich was one of the people who spoke up. Popadich, in June, attracted national attention after a post on the Facebook page Grand Blanc Residents Uncensored criticized him for wearing blue lipstick, a nose ring and large sunglasses.

As a result of the post, Popadich said hundreds of people, from former students to complete strangers, rallied to offer their support for him.

“I want to thank the leaders of Grand Blanc who, through their strategic plan, are focusing attention, now more than ever, on making Grand Blanc a place where equity, diversity and inclusion are hallmarks of our environment,” Popadich told the school board.

He pointed out that LGBTQIA youth are five times more likely than other youth to attempt suicide, but a supportive, inclusive community makes a difference and saves lives.

“In 20 years as a teacher, I’ve seen so much progress in making students feel accepted,” he said.

Parent Allison Ouellette also addressed the board and offered her support for Popadich and others. Ouellette said she was deployed to Fort Bliss last month when she saw the news about the Facebook post, which suggested that Popadich was not an appropriate role model for impressionable youth.

“Imagine my surprise and dismay to see a national news story about one of my very own teachers back here in Grand Blanc making it all the way to El Paso,” she said. “I would assert that what is not acceptable … is divisive, judgmental comments like theirs.

“And I’m here with my rainbow hair, and my tattoos, as a happy, confident, independent woman with a successful, 14-year career with the federal government, and I’m here to stand with Nick and any other parent, teacher or student who isn’t afraid to be themselves in their own skin.”

Ouellette said Grand Blanc has come a long way in recent years, but in some ways still has a lot of work to do to make diversity, equity and inclusion pillars of the community.

“I chose Grand Blanc schools because I had been told there’s a place for everyone,” she said.

The backlash over the district’s efforts came after the Equity Team gave a presentation to the board in May. Some reacted with outrage, calling it Marxist, communist and racist, and demanding that the district treat all students equally rather than equitably, regardless of their individual needs.

Now former Superintendent Clarence Garner responded to the criticism at an earlier meeting in June, saying the team’s work is about preparing students to be successful in a global economy.

Parent Michelle Ryder also spoke out in support of the equity program.

“I see a lot of parents around here taking issue with teaching about white privilege and the ways white supremacy maintains its power in this country,” she said. “If we realized that we’d been teaching photosynthesis the wrong way, wouldn’t we correct it? The American history of all ethnic and racial demographics should be highlighted accurately. I have heard some parents suggest that teaching critical race theory actually creates racism. Identifying the systematic ways racism proliferates through society is not perpetuating it. It instead creates visibility to it. Making it visible is the only way to deconstruct it.”

Parent Art Reyes shared a similar opinion.

“I support this district’s efforts with diversity, equity and inclusion,” Reyes said. “We must prepare our students for the world which is so much bigger than just our home community. More importantly, we need to show all students they have a place to learn, flourish and prepare right here in their home and in these schools. They will someday make their own contributions to this great, wide world, but only if we prepare them properly for what they may face.”

In his remarks to the school board last week, Garner said, “I’m not sure if there’s been a greater time in our history to ensure we continue fighting for our schools, our kids and our families, and our community. I believe we are one of the few public institutions left in our society that allows for a level playing field for all of our students.

“I believe it is critical we never forget our purpose or mission: to serve our students so they may actualize their own unique genius freely and without fear.

“I know there’s a lot of noise out there these days. There’s been a lot of noise in our history. There will be more noise in our future. I implore you, do not be distracted by this. It will ebb and flow. But the mission of our public schools remains unchanged. I believe we have the people and community in Grand Blanc to continue to live up to these ideals to positively impact our future.”