Political activist Huwaida Arraf spoke at the Bloomfield Hills School District discussing controversial opinions regarding Israel on March 14, 2023. She spoke at the school district at a “diversity assembly for the 10th graders.” WDIV reported that “some people feel that Arraf went too far in labeling Israel an oppressor of Palestinians” in a speech she gave at Bloomfield Hills High School. This led to “rabbis, parents and students” demanding an apology. In response to the outcry from the community, Huwaida Arraf appeared to go on the attack:
It’s unfortunate that certain interest groups are now harassing the BHHS administration and student organizers over my participation. These groups do a great disservice to our students’ education. These are the same forces that have been working to shut down Palestinian voices for decades, enabling Israel’s human rights abuses.
Parents Defending Education submitted a public records request to the district seeking any documents or emails from staff regarding bringing Huwaida Arraf in to speak at Bloomfield Hills High School. District board member Paul Kolin sent Superintendent Patrick Watson an email with an account of events provided by Huwaida Arraf on March 31. Paul Kolin asked the superintendent if the district’s position is that Arraf is not telling the truth. The superintendent stated in a previous email that “the speakers who presented didn’t provide a script.” This was in response to a March 20 email where Paul Kolin said: “We keep saying the speaker deviated from the script, I want to see the script.”
In the March 31 email, Paul Kolin provided several points of interest to Superintendent Watson. Huwaida Arraf appeared to let staff know beforehand that she would talk about “the dehumanization of Palestine (which can be tied to white nationalist violence here).” She added that she “was told that my story fits and they would love to have me.” She also claimed to have a call with the assistant principal “primarily to go over logistics and answer any questions.”
In another email, Paul Kolin said he wanted Huwaida Arraf’s claims as “part of the investigation.”
In a response to Paul Kolin dated April 3, Superintendent Watson explained if Huwaida Arraf was being honest. The response was in quotes and stated: “I think she is telling the truth. The presenters did not turn in a script. I am not sure what her conversation was with ‘student’, the student that she spoke with. ‘Student’ did not mention to me what the content of the speech was. When speaking with the students leading up to the assembly we talked about making sure that we had speakers that fit the prompt and could talk about their experiences.” The statement provided by the superintendent continued:
When we met the week before via Google meet we talked about logistics and went over the prompt. The students asked if the presenters had any questions. One of the presenters asked about timing and then we went over where to park. It was about a 15 minute conversation. All of the presenters sent in a short slide show that we used. This presenter did not.
PDE also received an email dated March 3, 2023, that the associate principal appeared to send out to potential speakers for the diversity event. The associate principal stated in the email:
The purpose of our student led assembly is to educate the student body and bring awareness to ignorance and bias within our community. We believe the best way of educating our community is by having people who live through this bias and discrimination talk about their experiences with our students and staff.
PDE received an agenda document for a meeting to plan the event dated March 9, 2023. The document provides the following for “our purposes, hopes, dreams”:
The purpose of this assembly is for students to learn how discrimination affects people of all different backgrounds. The reason we wanted to gather everyone together was in order to bring awareness to how ignorant actions affect people with differing religions, races, abilities, and sexualities. We would like to bring in speakers of many backgrounds to enlighten students through their own experiences.
One document PDE received had a list of speakers for the event that was partially redacted. One prompt on this document was “how can minorities overcome ignorance.” Listed speakers included people identified as “trans woman” and “gay male.” One speaker had the pronouns “she/they” listed.
PDE also received the following document from the district that appeared to be part of the presentations provided to students.