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Muskegon Heights mom, Mona Shores school hope to find better understanding after incident

Posted at 6:14 PM, Mar 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-07 18:14:04-05

NORTON SHORES, Mich. — AJ Bradford goes to Campbell Elementary. He's in 5th grade. He loves football and video games.

AJ was named Student of the Month for January. But in early February, AJ and another student got into a fight.

As is the case for nearly all 5th-grade fights, it was over something trivial. A "stolen" seat.

What happened afterward is why AJ's mom Samone Guy went to the school board. After the fight, the teacher pulled both students into the hallway.

“Your first question for the reprimand is 'are you a school of choice student?'” Guy said.

AJ is a school-of-choice student. He goes to Mona Shores Public Schools, but lives in the Muskegon Heights district. He's been a student at Campbell Elementary since 1st grade.

“The teacher said, well, you can go back to the heights,” AJ's mom recalled him telling her that day after school.

It's impossible to know the exact conversation between AJ and the teacher. For AJ's mom, it is a hurtful sentiment regardless, one that fired her up.

“Like my son is not welcome. He needs to go back to where he resides, where he lives, go to the schools where you guys have in your area,” Guy said.

Campbell Elementary principal Kelly Ivy says sending a school-of-choice student back to their 'home' district is simply not possible. But the idea isn't a new one—in fact—it's an old discontinued practice.

“That myth is there because that practice was happening. I didn’t realize that there were so many people that believe that was the practice. That if we have a discipline issue, it could revoke your school-of-choice status,” Ivy said.

According to Ivy, the teacher didn't know that wasn't the case and actually feared discipline by the school could include kicking AJ out of the district. Ivy says that's why the teacher didn't send both students to the office.

“The teacher was being literal in that sense. That this is what could happen and I don’t want that to happen," Ivy said.

For Samone and AJ, it feels like an all too familiar comment: go back to Muskegon Heights.

“I think apologies are accepted. But we have to think before we speak. At this point, it’s time for Mona Shores to become more diverse. To become more aware that they are way more diverse than when I was growing up in school. And it’s just time to add those actions to a plan. We have to come up with a plan, where our kids don’t feel like they’re being shut out when they go to school because of the color of their skin,” Guy said.

Samone attended Muskegon Heights High School. She's a proud Tiger alumnus.

“I graduated from Muskegon Heights Public Schools. I kind of felt some type of way, as well, because I’m like what are you referencing?” Guy said.

Mona Shores Public Schools tells FOX 17 that was never the intention. For years the teacher taught his own children, who were also school-of-choice students at Mona Shores, the myth that their behavior could result in removal from the school district.

“We are all one. What we do impacts each other. I can’t stand the perception that ‘I’m over here, I’m extra special,’” Ivy said.

It's forcing a conversation about "belonging" in the Muskegon area. It's a conversation the school and Samone both welcome.

“We are one at the end of the day. We’re one community. We have to stop labeling our communities, Mona Shores, the Heights, downtown, Muskegon. We should all just be at this point, one community. Because that what it is at the end of the day,” Samone said.

Saying—regardless of if this was intentional—that's not the point. It's creating an intentional conversation within the community, so no families feel how Samone did when she asked AJ how school was that day.

"We all shop at the same Meijer, we all shop at the same Walmart," Guy said.