Special Report on the closing of Detroit’s Catherine Ferguson Academy

Several weeks ago, we had a really good discussion here on the site about the proposed closing of the Catherine Ferguson Academy for pregnant and parenting teens in Detroit. One of those most engaged in the conversation was my old friend Pete, who is presently a PhD candidate in the Department of Epidemiology, at the U-M School of Public Health. Pete was so moved by the story, in fact, that he took a few hours off yesterday and drove into Detroit and meet with the Principal of the school, Asenath Andrews.

Here, with Pete’s permission, is an extended clip from the article, which he posted on his site, Freewheel Burning, this evening. I’d encourage you all to go there and read the whole thing.

andrews…“90% of girls who become pregnant during high school will not finish,” Ms. Andrews tells me plainly. Reasons include lack of family support, inadequate access to child care and, worst of all, stigma. “Pregnancy is a biological process, these girls are still girls and need help.” Catherine Ferguson has taken in girls facing one of the most difficult hurdles of their lives. Some are the victims of domestic violence and worse, human trafficking. CFA provides a safe and supportive home base for them and their children. Most importantly, CFA insures that these girls graduate from high school and continue toward a stable livelihood for them and their children.

“(Detroit) will lose two generations of people when this school closes, mothers and children,” Ms. Andrews said. Not only will these girls lose lifetime opportunities for education and work, but their children will be placed at incredible risk for falling into poverty themselves. Most importantly, Ms. Andrews says, “Detroit will lose a place where pregnant teens will always know that they can be safe. Detroit will lose a place that offers hope in a place where there are little demonstrable signs of hope.” Unfortunately, the plight of pregnant girls in Detroit is not on the minds of policy makers nor part of public discourse on the value of public education as a community good.

Nearly all of the graduates of CFA move on to 2 and 4 year colleges. In fact, acceptance to an institution that provides post-high school training and confirmation of receipt of financial aid are requirements for graduation. The school not only provides educational opportunities, but also helps girls navigate the complex process of college applications and financial aid, information that they are unlikely to receive at home. Ms. Andrews and the staff at CFA insure that not only will girls be able to attend school, but that they will also have adequate access to child care once they leave CFA. Nearly all of these girls will be the first in their families to attend any type of college.

Critics of CFA and ill-informed supporters of its closing have pointed to lackluster standardized test scores and falling graduation rates as justification for cutting Catherine Ferguson Academy from the DPS. Ms. Andrews points out that few girls start out at CFA, but rather come to the school (sometimes mid-year) as a result of an unplanned pregnancy. Thus, many girls have been at the school for less than a year and sometimes for mere weeks before standardized tests are issued. Ms. Andrews rightly points out that the previous institution should be held accountable for low test scores, not CFA.

Regardless, a walk down the main hallway of CFA reveals pictures of every graduating class in the past 26 years. CFA graduated approximately 45 girls in 2010, and past photos indicate that there have been as many as 300 graduated in a single year. In total, there are thousands of CFA graduates, the majority of which have completed some kind of post-secondary education and gone on to live healthy and productive lives.

When Ms. Andrews came to CFA 26 years ago, there were nearly 200 such schools in the U.S. that catered specifically to young mothers and pregnant teens. Public indifference has insured that there are now only three schools in the US like CFA. As of Friday, there will be two, one in Ohio and one in New York State. If the loss of CFA is any indication, then we can expect that soon there will be none.

Catherine Ferguson provided not only a priceless community service to a city filled with despair, but also served as a model for the role of public education in America. Conversations in the popular press reveal that the taxpayers have forgotten that high school students are human beings, focusing merely on test scores and mean school achievement as an indicator of the value of tax dollars. The benefits of a school like CFA are difficult to quantify, and often go to populations of students that garner little sympathy.

Race, poverty and exclusion have been hallmarks of the American landscape for decades, and Detroit is no exception. That CFA in particular has been slated for closing speaks loads to the priorities of policy makers and the general public. The indifference of state and local governments to the needs of impoverished and troubled African-American girls and their children is reprehensible.

I asked Ms. Andrews what the girls will do after CFA closes. She said that the students will go back to high schools in their local areas. After that, many will likely fall through the cracks. Detroit and the State of Michigan could have done something about Catherine Ferguson but chose not to. In the end, Detroit is not the only loser with the closing of CFA. We all lose when public schools actively choose not to support those who need it most. To me, the entire country loses…

incfaDespite a valiant effort on the part of the students – many of whom were arrested during a recent sit-in – and the subsequent media attention, it looks as though the Emergency Financial Manager who initially called for the closure of the Catherine Ferguson Academy, has been successful. According to Pete, Principal Andrews had just received the definitive word on the matter yesterday, shortly before his visit. It would seem, despite their good work, and success with young mothers, that, when push came to shove, tax breaks for Michigan businesses won out… And, all of us in Michigan this evening, who sat by and allowed it to happen, should be ashamed of ourselves.

[In case it didn’t come through in my introduction, I wanted to note how incredibly happy it makes me when readers of this site, like Pete, make the effort to take that next step and get personally involved in something that they first read about here. It’s things like this that keep me blogging for hours and hours each night, when I could be doing something like watching Two and a Half Men, or sending grainy images of my penis to blackjack dealers. I love knowing that, behind all the snarky comments and the distractions of our resident trolls, on occasion, things really resonate with people and, as a result, good things happen in the real world. I think that’s incredibly cool.]

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  1. LaidOffTeacherPatti
    Posted June 8, 2011 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    Maybe some of the businessmen getting the billions in tax breaks could pitch in and help, right?

    In a way, my special ed kiddos (like the pregnant girls) are also not always wanted at schools or in classrooms. There was a huge article in the freep.com about the costs of special ed…I figure, somehow, we are next to go. (We are federally mandated for now but you never know).

    This whole thing makes me sick. That school had a lot of good things going on…One of their ideas was to have one teacher in charge of a small group of students and that teacher was responsible for their success…I kind of am in that situation, being a special ed teacher. It is a joy like no other, let me tell you. I can’t imagine what those teachers are going through.

    Oh and btw, we are all still fired as of July 29.

  2. JSam
    Posted June 9, 2011 at 7:34 am | Permalink


    What kind of country do WE want?

  3. John Galt
    Posted June 9, 2011 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    I don’t think that girls should be rewarded for pumping out litters of offspring, by having nice, small classes, where they can actually learn things. If anything, I think these girls should be forced into even more crowed classrooms than your average Detroit public school students.

  4. Mr. X
    Posted June 9, 2011 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    I had no idea this school had been in place for 26 years. I’d love to hear from women who have graduated from CFA, and see what they’ve done with their lives. It would make for an incredible documentary project, in case anyone is looking for a project to take on.

  5. KPU
    Posted June 9, 2011 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    I started a page to help save this school. Can you please join us?

  6. KPU
    Posted June 9, 2011 at 11:46 am | Permalink


  7. Posted June 9, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Not that your efforts should at all be discouraged, but, according to the Principal of the school, it’s too late. Plans have already been made to begin emptying the school and she herself has already started to seek out new employment.

    It’s an absolute shame, really. I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t try to do enough at the right time, though, truthfully it has only been 39 days since the original announcement was made. There just simply wasn’t enough time to wage an effective PR campaign to save the school.

    To begin with, there was simply not enough public awareness of CFA, even before the announcement that it was on the chopping block. I didn’t even know it existed before a month and a half ago, despite having been there for more than 26 years.

    There were plans for a demonstration next week, though I’m not sure whether it will happen, given the finality of the closing.

  8. Posted June 9, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    It looks like the rally is still happening:


  9. Brainless
    Posted June 9, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    I just want to throw up. Politics wins over pragmatism yet again. I hope every asshole who comes on here and politicizes every tiny little issue will maybe read this and feel something – guilt? bowel movement? knife to the head?

  10. Edward
    Posted June 9, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    No one gives a shit about kids in Detroit. They don’t vote, and most people in the state of Michigan never see them. They’re just numbers on a spreadsheet. Who the fuck cares if there are 75 in a classroom? Who cares if they go to prison? As long as they stay in Detroit, it doesn’t matter to most people. Maybe it would be different if they could hire lobbyists or make campaign contributions. Our system is hopelessly broken and nothing’s going to change until people int he suburbs get scared. I’m sorry to say it, but it’s the truth.

  11. LaidOffTeacherPatti
    Posted June 9, 2011 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    I’m inclined to agree with Edward. I teach there (well, until July 29th) and nothing is going to change until either people in the burbs (and by that, I mean people with money, usually white) start moving in or until people in Detroit stand up and demand better. The problem is, most folks that I know in the D have about a billionity other problems or simply are tired of not being heard (and yeah, some don’t care). The kids know that people don’t expect much of them (well, we teachers do but….) and I think they know that the rest of the state shits all over them.

    Oh yeah and speaking of shitting on people…did you all hear about the legislation passed in Lansing re: teachers?

    But I digress.

    I very rarely lose my cool but one of the 6th graders since something about the “preps” (i.e. rich, Grosse Pointe or one of those) at a field trip and how they don’t care about them because “we’re just a bunch of street kids” or something and I went off about how to hell with the rest of the people, we know they might be street wise but they aren’t “street” and show the other people that they are cool. Besides, I said, our school could take that other school any day of the week :)

  12. Bob
    Posted June 9, 2011 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    Detroit is its own set of problems, but it is part of a growing trend to just weaken public education. Late today the Michigan legislature moved forward on destroying tenure for teachers, part of the Republican aim to crush the MEA. Thanks Rick Snyder and his supporters. Perhaps he’s celebrating with a Corner brew.

  13. Posted June 10, 2011 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    CFA’s success makes it unarguably clear that the solution to the high drop-out rate is small class size, interesting and relevant curriculum,basic social service programs that address the challenges of poverty such as medical care, high quality childcare and early child development programs, flexible schedules to accommodate the real needs of real people, and a culture and community that constantly, concretely (through its investment in girls who have been previously told they will amount to nothing) reinforces the essential human value of its students and provides them with the motivation and tools to succeed.

    In part because of this, CFA is slated to be closed. While giving lip service to “leaving no child behind,” the wealthy of our nation do not want to pay the taxes required to fund successful schools for poor children who do not come from educated and privileged families. They would rather create stripped down, inferior schools that communicate to children from the moment they enter pre-K that they are condemned to limited horizons and, at best, a service job upon graduation. This is the face of the New Jim Crow.

    For this reason, the fight to keep CFA open is a fight for the life of Detroit, and ground zero in the most significant civil rights struggle of the twenty first century – the fight to preserve public education as an institution of democracy, equality and social mobility in our nation.

    It’s time to recognize, as did Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that we must act on “the fierce urgency of now”, and that, together, we can move mountains.

    For more information on what you can do to help save Catherine Ferguson Academy, call 855-ASK-BAMN or emaildonna.stern@bamn.com.

  14. Meta
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    From the BAMN website.

    JUNE 16

    2750 Selden Street, two blocks north of MLK/Mack, one block east of I-96
    Defend Your Right to a Quality Education!

    Unite in Action with The Catherine Ferguson Academy for Young Women (CFA)!
    **After you pick up your report card on the June 16th at your school, come directly over to CFA. Transportation and food will be provided in all areas of the city and neighboring areas (call or text 313-585-3637)**

    Catherine Ferguson Academy (CFA) is a Detroit Public School. CFA is a JEWEL of DETROIT and it is about to be stolen from our community- we must defend it and defend ourselves. CFA students are standing on their feet fighting to defend public education, fighting to stop the destruction of programs in all of our schools through class size increases and elimination of our teachers, and against the closing of all of the public schools on the closing list. CFA is on the list to be closed. It is a school for pregnant and parenting teenage girls. At CFA, our sisters, cousins and friends, are not treated as outcasts, but are cared for and treated as fellow persons with value. CFA is a regular comprehensive high school, where the students can bring their children. There is early childhood development and pre-school, and nurseries. There are doctors, nurses and others who come to the school to provide services for the students and their children to make sure that they are all successful. There is also a wonderful farm with goats, ducks, chickens, honeybees, fruit trees, vegetables and even a horse. In a society where being a teenage mother enslaves most to a life of poverty and limited opportunity, CFA is like the first “safe house” stop on the underground railroad to freedom, a place of new beginning and hope for young women who have been told by so many that their own lives are over.

    We can save all of our schools and programs by uniting in action at CFA to make it clear that the new “Jim Crow”, second class treatment of black and Latina/o and other minority students has no place in our city. On April 15, 2011, the brave students of CFA led Detroit and shook up the nation by sitting down and refusing to leave the school over spring break. This action resulted in numerous schools coming off of the closing list. However, CFA is still on the closing list and is being used as a “political football” between the Democrats and the Republicans, both of whom could keep the school open, but neither will without a fight led by the students to make them keep it open. Next time at CFA, if hundreds, not just dozens of people are gathered outside to defend the school, we will save CFA and win more of our demands. Just like the auto workers forced the powerful auto companies to recognize their union in the 1930’s through sit-down strikes, and black high school and college students in the South broke the back of segregation by sitting down at lunch counters, and the hundreds of Northwestern High School students in Detroit kept their school open by walking out and marching together last year, we must recognize, just as Dr. Martin Luther King did, that if young people act on “the fierce urgency of now,” we can move mountains.

    In addition to closing CFA and numerous other schools, class sizes in all DPS high schools are being threatened to increase to forty-five (45) students per class starting in fall of 2012. Schools that offer a college prep curriculum will no longer be able to effectively do so in reality. And neighborhood schools will lose electives all together, as well as many extracurricular activities. We must organize a massive mobilization to save CFA and preserve the quality of all DPS schools. Anyone and everyone can and should come – people of all ages, schools, cities, etc., but the students have to lead!

    At this point, we have so much power at CFA because of the first set of actions. Students at Southeastern walked out three times and won the right to sing at the MSVMA choral festival, and led a successful campaign to defend the rights of a transgendered classmate. If more students and youth in Detroit stand up and fight, we will win much more. Now is the time to stop listening to the naysayers in our life–three Ps–parents, principals and preachers, who too often speak out of fear and not strength, telling us to just keep our heads down and not to fight for what we know we deserve and believe in. They say that there is another way, and that the adults will take care of it, but the adults have not and will not do what is necessary to fight and win. Join the movement and fight for your dignity, equality and hope for your future.

    Have your school adopt the following demands:

    Defend Public Education
    Keep Catherine Ferguson Open
    No School Closings
    Keep All Detroit Public Schools Public – No More Charters or Privatization
    No class size increases, reduce overcrowded classes
    Maintain all Magnet Programs and Schools
    Reinstate all programs and services that have been eliminated, including art & music as well as counselors & social workers, AP classes, robotics, and other special programs at all schools
    Student Control of Curriculum and School Character to assure that every Detroit school provides equal, quality education for all
    No discipline or retaliation against any of the participants in the occupation or any other collective actions taken to defend public education

    The enemies of public education know that their plan is not about balancing the district’s budget. They are fully aware that their statistics are wrong and fabricated and that this plan will make the district lose money. For example, they say CFA costs the District $2.7 million (Detroit News 5/27/11) when it really only costs $750,000 and the rest comes from special federal and state funding, not the DPS general fund. The racist, white billionaires, who do not want to pay for public education anymore, believe that the people of Detroit do not have value and want to fulfill that prophecy through force. This is about implementing the New Jim Crow and forcing people to defer their dreams by blocking any opportunity for them to lead and shine. It is their intention to destroy public education, and get away with it with only minimal objections from the community, without any serious consequences, without Detroiters organizing and raising total HELL to stop the destruction of our schools and our neighborhoods.

    Roy Roberts and other pessimistic politicians, whom of which are backed by a tiny minority of billionaires, ARE NOT OUR “FRIENDS”. They are overseers hired to implement and enforce the New Jim Crow system of education on black and Latino/a students – separate and completely unequal once again. It is for this reason that they want to close special Detroit schools such as CFA and destroy Renaissance and Cass and creative and loved programs in neighborhood schools like music and robotic programs, will all be in the past and no longer exist for black and Latino/a students in Detroit. Then, wealthy white people can say to working class and poor white people, “you may have a poor education system that we refuse to pay for, but at least you are not black or Latino/a.” They are closing schools and firing teachers to drive students out of the district and gentrify the city by race and class. A few middle-class students will go to private schools or leave the city, and the rest will be warehoused in inferior, overcrowded schools. Whether or not our schools stay open or teachers keep their jobs depends on whether we can overcome our fears and express our anger in a collective manner, and put our foot down and declare that Detroit students, our schools, our programs, our neighborhoods and our city are not for sale.

    We can end the regime of overcrowded classrooms, police in the schools doling out repression and brutality, and turning what should be places of learning, where we can express and develop our full creativity and humanity, into cheap, stripped-down, prison-like holding cells. We want and deserve the full range of subjects and extracurriculars – art, music, dance, theatre, sports, AP and foreign language courses, chess, etc. – that a first-class comprehensive public education has to offer. To the extent that any school becomes a charter, if they do not meet the full standards of the students and parents, they must lose their charter immediately!

    We CAN defeat this plan, but only by getting off our knees and fighting back. It’s time to heed the words of Frederick Douglass, one of the greatest leaders in the history of our nation, who said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”


  15. Josh
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    i’m sorry, the emergency FINANCIAL manager did what?

  16. LaidOffTeacherPatti
    Posted June 11, 2011 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Josh, his title got changed to Emergency Manager under Snyder’s new law :( So they basically have power over everything. Our union rep said that Roy Roberts (who I keep calling Roy Rogers), the new EM, said he isn’t afraid to use his powers…which could be anything from closing schools to voiding union contracts to firing all the teachers (like Rob Bobb did). Thank God there is a federal law protecting special education or else I’m sure we’d be “closed”….

  17. Posted June 11, 2011 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Laws that protect blind kids are socialist.

  18. LaidOffTeacherPatti
    Posted June 11, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    Oh Peter Larson!!!!!

  19. Posted June 11, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    Working eyes should go to those who can afford them.

  20. Posted April 9, 2012 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    I see an oportunity here for an enterpising individual or group, perhaps a church. Go private with this academy. Get some businesses to help support a not -for-profit private school, charge a fee from the school district to take these at-risk students, hire the laid off faculty and meet this need. If the need isn’t big enough then the EM made the right decision and those ladies will have to suck it up and determine for themselves that they will success dispite the poor choices they have made and graduate from a “regular” school.

  21. John Galt
    Posted April 9, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    I concur wholeheartedly. If these woman has just “sucked it up” they wouldn’t be in the mess they’re in now. Or, if they don’t like the taste of semen, I believe an aspirin between the knees would have worked as well. Regardless, they’ve made their beds now, and they should suffer for the remainder of their natural lives.

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  1. […] with the young men of the Frederick Douglass Academy, and the young women who we watched last year being forcefully evicted from the Catherine Ferguson Academy. It’s time for this fight to extend beyond the boundaries of Detroit. This entry was posted […]

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