Destroyed TCAPS MLK facility at Ashton Park
One of four Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) facilities designed to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day was destroyed in Ashton Park over the weekend, with one or more people completely removing 17 signs that were installed throughout the park with pages from the storybook “I Am Every Good Thing” by African-American author Derrick Barnes.
According to TCAPS Elementary Library Coordinator Stephie Luyt, the school district set up StoryWalk displays at four locations on Friday: Ashton Park (owned by the town of Traverse City near Willow Hill), Central Grade, Traverse Heights, and TCAPS Montessori in Glenn Loomis. A StoryWalk presents a chosen book and displays the individual pages of the book on laminated pages in metal frames driven into the ground along a walking route (photo, example). Students and families are encouraged to browse the path to read the full book. TCAPS StoryWalk exhibits are scheduled through January 21 with four different books: “I Am Every Good Thing” by Derrick Barnes at Ashton Park/Willow Hill, “I Have a Dream” illustrated by Kadir Nelson at Central Grade, “The Last Stop on Market Street” by Matt de la Peña in Traverse Heights, and “Hair Love” by Matthew A. Cherry at TCAPS Montessori in Glenn Loomis.
According to Luyt, the Ashton Park exhibit was installed on Friday and was still in place at 6 p.m. Saturday, when families visited the installation. Between 6 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. Sunday, however, the posting was removed altogether. Seventeen panels were taken down throughout the park, which Luyt said would have required some effort given that the metal frames had to be drilled into the ground to secure them due to freezing temperatures.
“I want to believe it was taken down for some other reason, but that seems intentional,” she said, noting that TCAPS had a permit from the city to install the display in Ashton Park. “If it was teenagers it looks like it would just have been vandalized as we had to use two drills to install it.” Luty, who filed a police report Sunday with the Traverse City Police Department, said the reporting officer agreed that it appeared the posting was intentionally removed.
After a year in which TCAPS was recently featured on NPR’s “This American Life” for a controversial incident in which students created a racist Snapchat group and parents dominated public commentary at several board meetings accusing the district of trying to insert critical race theory into classrooms, Luyt says it’s “incredibly disappointing” to see an exhibit honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Day pulled just before the federal holidays.
“It’s a picture book,” she says of the StoryWalk exhibit. “It’s supposed to be a great experience for families and kids. I worked hard to pick the titles and (set up the displays). It’s just sad.” The other three StoryWalk locations are all on school property due to security cameras, but the Ashton Park exhibit for Willow Hill did not have on-site cameras. Luyt says she’s considering reinstalling the screen, which costs about $150 in materials, but isn’t sure yet if that will be feasible in terms of timing. She thinks it’s important for the community to have conversations about race despite the controversy surrounding those discussions over the past year. “If you can’t talk about it, you can’t deal with it,” she says.
Traverse City Police Department Chief Jeff O’Brien confirms the department received a police report regarding the vandalism and has opened an investigation into the incident. “Nothing else was damaged in the park,” he said. “If anyone has seen something or has any information, they can call us.” Tips can be reported to 231-995-5150 or [email protected] O’Brien says the department probably can’t do much without more information from the public, but says if a suspect or suspects are identified, they could face robbery charges for the incident.