Ross Randall Johnson is a substitute teacher for the Dickinson-Iron School District in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, near the Wisconsin border. He also says he's often the only Black person in the entire building when he substitutes in nearby districts.
While subbing a social studies class in the nearby West Iron County Public Schools, Johnson told an 8th-grade class during a lesson about the Declaration of Independence what he thought was obvious: that the United States of America hasn't exactly always lived up to that whole "All men are created equal" thing.
Johnson tells Metro Times that things came to a head following a lesson on Sept. 22.
"Afterwards, in a semi-open discussion format with the class, I addressed the reasons this idea of 'all men are created equal' was definitely not true in the early days of the newly declared independent United States," Johnson says. "In fact, this concept of 'all men are created equal' being espoused by the Founding Fathers was blatantly hypocritical." Johnson then pointed out the groups that did not enjoy equal freedoms at the time: slaves, free Black people, Native Americans, and women.
"Before moving on to the next part of the assignment, I stated to the class, based on the obvious inconsistencies between the words in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, '[America] is a country built on lies. But that is a topic for another time,'" he recalls.
At the end of the day, Johnson says he was stopped by WIC principal Mike Berutti on his way out of the building, who asked him if it was true that he said that the U.S. "was a country built on lies."
"I said, 'Yes,' and framed it within the context of the subject matter we were covering in class," Johnson says. Berutti then went on to say that "[teachers] must follow the state curriculum" and can't insert their "politics" into teaching, and added that following the curriculum keeps the school out of trouble, according to Johnson.
"Baffled, I attempted to get him to see reason and that I was not discussing politics by clarifying that we were covering relevant subject matter on America's beginnings," Johnson says. "The truth about the treatment of Blacks during the late 1700s in America is not politics."
Johnson says Berutti then said, "If you want to continue to teach here, you have to follow [Michigan’s curriculum]." Johnson says he felt that was threatening, and maintains that he was following Michigan’s school curriculum guidelines.
"Unfortunately, this seems to be the trend in Upper Michigan," Johnson says. "Ethnic minorities are constantly marginalized. I personally, have been censored for speaking the truth and had my employment threatened. People of color facing discrimination in the Upper Peninsula’s school systems have had their voices muffled for far too long. Therefore, I want to shine light on this darkness. People of color should not feel apprehensive about walking into a school in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula whether as a student or teacher."
Johnson also alleges that he has witnessed multiple instances of racism while teaching at West Iron County, including two students who made disparaging comments about Asians, and one parent who said a student threatened his daughter, who is of Mexican descent, telling her he was going to bring a gun and send her "back across the border."
Berutti could not be reached for comment.
Kevin Schmutzler, the superintendent of West Iron County Schools confirms that Johnson is a substitute teacher for the district who also serves as a basketball coach. He did not comment on Berutti's alleged comments.
"I have not received any discrimination reports from students or staff," he tells Metro Times. "We have zero-tolerance for any kind of harassing comments, and any complaints are investigated and handled by staff and administration."
He also denies that Johnson was punished or discouraged from teaching at West Iron County Schools.
"Mr. Johnson was not reprimanded," he says. "We hope that he plans to continue to be a substitute teacher for us."
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