When parents in Saline, Michigan, came together to discuss racial tensions in the school community, the meeting took a sudden turn when one father interrupted another by blurting out, "Why didn't you stay in Mexico?"
The meeting was hosted by Saline Area Schools, local public radio channel WEMU reports. Parents of minority students stood up to share how their children felt discriminated against in the school district. One father, Adrian Iraola, said his son was the victim of racist remarks.
"When I went to his bedroom to say good night he was crying because of the abuse endured in this school system," Iraola said. Then another man interrupted him.
"Why didn't you stay in Mexico?" Tom Burtell interjected. The crowd of about 125 parents gasped, video posted by local news outlet MLive shows.
Several parents condemned Burtell's remark, shouting, "You need to leave" and "That is disgusting."
"That's indicative of what these kids are experiencing. Comments like that," one man in the crowd is heard saying in the video. "He [Iraola] is sharing a story right now and that's indicative of what these kids are experiencing."
Once the crowd settled down, Iraola answered Burtell's question. "Why didn't I stay in Mexico? Because this is the greatest country in the world."
While several people cheered, Burtell shouted, "But you're complaining about being here."
In an interview with CBS News on Wednesday, Iraola said, "That was not a question, that was an attack."
"I think that Saline has a lot of work to do. They need to ask themselves what can we do better to include everybody," he said.
CBS News tried to reach Burtell at home and by phone but were not able to interview him. One of his sons, however. spoke out, saying his father's views in no way represent his own.
The meeting was meant to open a conversation about diversity and inclusion after students in the district posted racist comments about black people on social media last month. On his website, Superintendent Scot Garden said the district investigated the incident and determined "additional efforts must be made to repair the damage from this situation."
Still, some parents felt the district was not doing enough to address racism in the schools. During a January 28 school board meeting, where the racist incident was discussed, one parent said the district must change how it addresses diversity, equity and inclusion, according to MLive.
"Our reputation as a city is that we are racist. That is flat out true," Saline parent Katie Mitchell said. She pointed to the fact that in the past, the district did not change its policy to add protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
Following that board meeting, parents were invited to attend the community conversation on Monday, where the issue was to be further discussed. But instead of easing tensions, they boiled over.
Following the uproar, Garden announced plans to continue the conversation at another meeting next week. "There are a lot of issues we can discuss, however, based on recent events I would like talk about the issue of diversity, equity & inclusion as it relates to our community and Saline Area Schools," he wrote online. "What role do we play as a school district? What role should we play?"
"Hate, prejudice, and racism have no place in our schools or our community," Garden said in a statement to CBS News. "The Saline Board of Education and administration take the issue of student and adult behavior seriously. We are striving to ensure a welcoming, inclusive, and safe environment for all students and families, regardless of their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender identity, or any other identity. This is an opportunity for us — the staff, students, and community of Saline Area Schools — to stand for anti-racism, respect, and inclusion of all students."
Adriana Diaz contributed to this report.
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