Students dress as Latino gang members, teacher on administrative leave


PHOTO Tyler Soule

Superintendent Adam Hartley speaks with a reporter on Friday, May 17.

Gracie Warda and Tyler Soule

Taking inspiration from a “Key and Peele” episode, some members of the class of 2019 dressed as Latino gang members, often called “Cholos,” on May 16. These students, along with one teacher (whose identifying information is not being released), are now under investigation by the administrative board.

“First and foremost, this was not a school sponsored senior prank. It was not something that was approved by any means,” Superintendent Adam Hartley said. “We’re taking the time to investigate who was involved, where it originated, and so on. We know this wasn’t a class of 2019 event; this isn’t something that [has] an overarching consequence. The investigation will pinpoint who was involved, and what, if any, actions need to be taken. If students were not involved in this in any way, they have nothing to worry about.”

This non-sanctioned school event quickly turned to racial controversy. The teacher who participated was put on paid administrative leave early in the morning on May 17.

“If someone is put on administrative leave, an investigation takes place, and once it is done a decision will be made about what happens next,” Principal Mark Suchowski said. “Is there a discipline where the person is off work? Is there a discipline where the person is off work without pay? The extreme would be the person is no longer employed. On the other side, the investigation could find that the claim was unsubstantiated, and in that case the teacher would be reinstated.”

The long-term consequences for the teacher and students will not be decided until the administrative investigation is complete.

“I had [the teacher] my junior year,” senior Dylan Dockins said. “A lot of teachers will pick on kids, but [they] were one person that would help, no matter who it was or what they needed. [They] would do anything in [their] will to help students. Kids love [them]. It makes me upset that [they] are getting punished for this, because [they] didn’t know what [they] were doing.”

Current students as well as graduates have spoken out on the issue. From shouting in the halls to speaking on social media to emailing Suchowski and Hartley, an abundance of voices have expressed their concern.

“This is not a reflection of what we stand for here,” Hartley said. “Frankly, as superintendent of Fenton Area Public Schools, I’m just embarrassed that we’re in this situation. This is not a reflection of our community; this was an isolated incident that was handled promptly and appropriately. As an administration, we took the necessary steps, and will continue to take those steps in order to, one, make sure it never happens again, and two, learn from this experience where this exposes an area in which we have to look at, ‘what more should we do in order to educate our students, to educate our staff, so actions are not taken on the students or staffs part that is construed as offensive?’ We need to celebrate diversity, we do celebrate diversity. The actions of a few do not reflect who we are as a school community.”

Suchowski, addressing these concerns, said that “more often than not, Fenton High School students make good choices. Poor choices were made, people were offended, and we need to figure out where to go from here.”

Only a few seniors participated in the event, along with several other pranks, none of which created as much controversy. These students, along with the teacher, were unable to comment about the incident at this time.

“I apologize to everyone,” Anonymous said. “There’s no excuse for what we did; everyone has a right to be angry with us. It was never meant to target anyone or be offensive. We meant no harm by it. Some of these students are some of the kindest, most loving people I know. We never face discrimination as Americans, and the environment that we grew up around, it’s not something we’ve ever really understood. This was a huge mistake; if we knew that this was a derogatory term, we would not have done it.”

As the investigation progresses, the administration asks that respect toward the students and teacher involved is continuously exhibited. Visit for updates on the investigation.

**UPDATE** All students were able to walk at graduation and the teacher in question was able to come back to work shortly after the incident.