Protecting our schools


Protecting our schools

By Shea Howell

Michigan Citizen, May 1-7, 2011


Mayor Dave Bing needs to break with Emergency Manager Robert Bobb. He needs to order Police Chief Ralph Godbee to cease all cooperation with the Detroit Public Schools while they are under the control of an EFM.


Last week the confrontation at Catherine Ferguson Academy (CFA) was shameful. Detroit Police Officers actually arrested pregnant and parenting teen mothers who feel so passionately about their education, school and teachers that they refused to leave the building when they heard that their school was slated for closure. Detroit Police Officers barred Elena Herrada, the elected school board member responsible for the school, from entering the building, even after she identified herself. Police confiscated cameras and footage shot by independent journalists. They handcuffed and arrested teen mothers and at least one teacher.


This behavior on the part of the Detroit Police is outrageous. Almost a year after the brutal killing of Aiyana Jones in service of reality TV, we have the thuggish arrests of young mothers who have the audacity to want an education.


The Mayor and the Chief of Police need to apologize to the students at Catherine Ferguson Academy. They and their officers need to pledge to support students in their educational efforts, even if that means defying Robert Bobb and his schemes.


If the Mayor and Chief refuse to take this action, the Police Officers themselves should issue a non-cooperation statement. It should not be lost on any of them that they, too, are targets of the new privatization efforts. Nor should they allow themselves to be seen as “good soldiers,” to be used against their own sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, sons and daughters, whose crime is to want an education.


CFA is one of 45 schools that Robert Bobb says he will charterize or close. A quick glance at the list shows that EFM Robert Bobb has included some of the best, most loved, supported and successful schools on his hit list. He tells us that there are no other choices.


Mayor Bing, the City Council and the citizens of Detroit should reject this false dichotomy. We should demand that any school on this list be given the opportunity to become a community-based school, run by the students and teachers in support of the community.


Instead of allowing Robert Bobb to defy any semblance of democracy, we should demand that students, teachers, administrators and staff in each of the 45 schools be given the opportunity to vote on their future. If the majority vote to stay open with current staff and leadership, they should be supported to do so. Students, teachers, parents and interested community members should work together to decide how they will organize the school and how they can best support the redevelopment of their community.


Instead of destroying unions by setting aside contracts,  we should invite unions into the school buildings. Union members and retirees are an important resource and could create life skill centers for young people, passing on vital knowledge.


Instead of leaving communities with empty buildings, we should embrace the opportunity of smaller, neighborhood schools that become vibrant centers of community life, welcoming artists, activists, immigrants, non-profits, parents and unions to create truly intergenerational learning.  Community members should replace security guards. Skills can be passed on in supportive, caring relationships as students and adults together restore community.


If the Mayor will not demand this, we need to take action to gather around those schools that vote to stay.


Unless we do this, every school will be destroyed by the new charter effort. The management firm hired by EFM Bobb prides itself in the “fresh start” approach—firing all associated with a school and hiring a new, non-unionized work force.


Our schools can become democratic forces for the reconstruction of our city and our civic life. Some are already doing this. We need to protect them.