Students at Detroit’s Western High School walk out over planned school closings and cuts in education funding, chanting “They sat cut back! We say fight back!”

Increasing, we’re seeing students in Detroit step-up and fight for the educations that they’re entitled to as American citizens. Every few weeks, it seems, there’s a different battle being waged. If it’s not kids being arrested for protesting the closing of their schools, it’s kids being suspended for having the audacity to demand that they actually have teachers in their classrooms. So far, they haven’t experienced a great deal of success, but the movement is growing, and I’m encouraged… The most recent battle is being waged in Southwest Detroit, where it was recently announced by the Emergency Manager of Detroit Public Schools, Roy Roberts, that Southwestern High would be shuttered this summer, leaving Western High the only high school in the area. A few hundred students at Western walked out of classes on Wednesday in protest. (See video below.) The following clip comes from The Detroit News:

…An estimated 200 students walked out of school midday Wednesday to protest the upcoming closure of Southwestern High School and demand improved conditions across the district…

“We don’t have the necessary supplies we need to learn,” a student said… “Teachers should motivate us more to learn and succeed… Some only care about their paychecks, and not enough about our education. We want our voices heard in any decision-making process that will affect us as students.”

…After students identified as having walked out Wednesday gathered near the auditorium, school employees handed them suspension slips… Students were not given details about why they were suspended, but the notices implied it was for being part of “a student demonstration.”

(Freddie) Burse, a freshman, said he understands rules might have been broken by walking out without permission, but feels the action taken is extreme.

“You’re basically keeping us out of school for wanting to better our school,” he said…

According to a subsequent report by the Detroit Free Press, over 100 students were given suspensions. (About 100 Western International High students were given four-day suspensions, and 23 Southwestern students received five-day suspensions, according to Steve Wasko, the spokesman for Detroit Public Schools.)

And here’s where it gets interesting… The suspended students are taking the opportunity to create their own school, which better conforms to their vision of what participatory, meaningful education should be. They’re calling their school the Southwest Detroit Freedom School. The following statement, about the launch of the school, was posted to Facebook on Friday by Raychel Gafford, one of the suspended students from Western.

On Friday, April 27, 2012 at 10:55 a.m., we students of Western International High School will be starting our first day of class at Southwest Detroit Freedom School at Clark Park, across from our beloved school which we were suspended from. After over 300 of us staged a student walkout on Wednesday April 25, 2012, over 150 of us were given 5-day suspensions. One of our fellow students, targeted as the “ring-leader” is being threatened with formal charges for helping organize the walkout. We were walking out in solidarity with our fellow students at Southwestern High School to save their school from closing. More importantly, we were also fighting for quality education for us at Western, and at ALL DPS schools. We do not understand why we are being punished with a loss of educational opportunity when that is exactly what we were fighting for. To further demonstrate our commitment to education, we will be attending our own school taught by ourselves and community educators for the duration of our suspension. We are still looking for more teachers and students.

Contact us if you want to help and/or attend.
E-mail: ourvoicesouthwestdetroit@gmail.com,
Twitter: @_OurVoice, #LetOurVoicesBeHeard
Tumblr: ourvoicesouthwestdetroit.tumblr.com
Facebook Group: Southwest Detroit Freedom School

EVERYONE IS WELCOME….JOIN US!!!!

Classes will be about:
the history of Southwest Detroit
the Civil Rights Movement
Bboy/BGirl classes (Breakdancing)
the specifics of the Detroit Public School system
the Student Code of Conduct
your civil rights
Lino-cut prints
woodprints
screenprinting
social justice
Hip-Hop
poetry workshops
You will also have a space to do make up work for the days you are suspended.
and much more!

Our Demands to the Detroit Public School System are the following:
1. Don’t close Southwestern High School.
2. Don’t close Maybury Elementary.
3. Remove suspensions for students involved in the walkout.
4. Don’t keep students away from school for walking out to stand up for what they believe.
5. Don’t want suspensions to go on our student records.
6. Don’t press criminal charges against students’ involved in the walkout.
7. Don’t violate students’ rights.
8. Don’t take students’ phones and search through & delete their content.
9. Don’t lay hands on students. No more physical attacks on students by security guards.
10. No more favoritism in who is & is not being targeted for suspension.
11. No more favoritism to certain students, student groups, or sports teams.
12. Honor the DPS Code of Conduct.
13. School Supplies: toilet paper, hand soap, etc.
14. Clean bathrooms, facilities.
15. Stop making students feel like we’re in prison.
16. Higher expectations for students.
17. Better college prep.
18. Stability– teachers who will actually be there for us, who are qualified.
19. Protection of teachers & their union.
20. We want equal opportunity to education.
21. Stop selling away community assets.
22. We’re students, not money signs or criminals. Stop running school like a business or a prison.
23. Give students an equal say in what goes on in all DPS schools. Give students a place in decision-making process. We want a Voice.
24. We need to invest more into our education than what our test scores are gonna be.
25. We need a better education– not students’ fault that money isn’t being used correctly.
26. We need teachers that teach, adequate books and supplies.
27. Remove the Emergency Financial Manager. Give control of schools back to community by reinstating the School Board.
28. Stop closing DPS schools. Go with what we have, stop closing everything down. Fix what we have. Stop closing DPS schools and allowing the chartering of so many schools. Stop turning schools into for profit businesses.
29. WE DEMAND RESPECT!!!!

And here’s that video I mentioned earlier, which features Gafford and others.

As terrible as this is, there is an up-side, as evidenced by the video… We’re creating a whole generation of incredible, highly-motivated, young leaders, who aren’t afraid to stand up and fight back.

And, if you’d like to help these incredible young people, there’s a way to help them. Joe Montgomery, who is active with Occupy Ypsi, has created a Facebook page for those in Ypsilanti who would like to carpool into Detroit to teach courses at the new school. So, if you’ve got a good idea for a course, or if you’d just like to help out, follow that link and sign up.

Also, by way of background, our last discussion on this site about the war on public education that’s being waged in the United States can be found here.

[note: More information about the Southwest Detroit Freedom School, can be found on Facebook.]

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14 Comments

  1. Knox
    Posted April 29, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Guillotine building workshop?

    I apologize for engaging in violent rhetoric, but, Jesus Christ. How far are we going to allow the 1% to push things in this country? At some point, there has to be a massive correction. Or, will the drones, tasers and pepper spray keep the inevitable from coming? Have the rich finally found a way to isolate themselves from the consequences of their actions?

  2. Posted April 29, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    This is awesome! I admire these kids so much that I can barely sit still. When I worked in the district, I saw so many kids who really, truly wanted to learn but they couldn’t because there were fools in the class who kept disrupting things or because their teacher didn’t give a crap or just didn’t know what s/he was doing. (We actually had a teacher who taught 6th grade who sat up there and told the kids she didn’t know the math and would have to learn with them; I taught long division and fractions that year).

    I’m sure the NeoCons and their ilk will find a way to rag on these kids, but I hope they keep going. I wish I was independently wealthy so I could give them a school that would work for them!

  3. dirtgrain
    Posted April 29, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    Ms. Gafford, along with several of her fellow students, answered led a brief Q and A with young people at a Michigan Roundtable event yesterday. She said that she is concerned that the administration is looking into more disciplinary measures against her, as she is one of the leaders of the walkout. She asked us all to spread the word. So spread the word everybody.

  4. Posted April 29, 2012 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    let us hope that acts of solidarity bloom like May flowers in the coming days.

  5. Edward
    Posted April 30, 2012 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    Strange comments about school security taking phones from students in order to read texts about the walkout. One would think that would be illegal.

  6. K2
    Posted April 30, 2012 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    In the press they’re making it sound like the problem here isn’t one of cutbacks, and decreasing educational opportunities for the kids of Detroit, but that the consolidation of high schools would put rival Latino gangs in the same building. At least that’s the way that I’m reading the coverage. They’re making it sound like that’s the main reason the students at Western walked out.

  7. Jon
    Posted April 30, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    One of the students at Western (I don’t know whether he walked out or not) is one of the finest young men I know. He just earned his eagle scout rank, does a lot of volunteer in the community, takes leadership roles in his school and is going to U-M this fall. It’s not just our kids at the bottom of the educational achievement sphere that are getting caught in issues like this. It’s some of our best students, too.

  8. Thom Elliott
    Posted April 30, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    I’m sorry children of southeast Michigan, you’ve unfortunately been thrown into a dystopic future (which is the result of decades of racism, modernism, anti-intellectualism, and corruption) where respect of persons, your welfair, and your integrity as budding beings and our responsability toward you are just not important considerations. Our nihilistic society’s neurotic and destructive obsessions matter more then our children, our future, the future of the planet, our health, our minds, you name it; we are willing to trade it in for comfy denial, gigantic telescreens, and a quiet death over a mountain of Double Down sandwhiches where the fried chicken is the bread with cheese and bacon in between.

  9. Anonymous Mike
    Posted April 30, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    This is an incredible story, and I’m happy to see so many people jumping in to help these students. I am concerned, however, that the adults offering to help are going to outnumber the students three-to-one. Perhaps, before rushing to Detroit to offer help, people should wait a moment, and ask the students what they want/need. They should be the ones pushing this, not the adults, no matter how well intentioned they may be.

  10. Mr. Y
    Posted April 30, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    I think that the Ypsi contingent is in agreement with you, Mike. The following was left on Facebook by Greg Pratt, who drove down to Detroit today with a group of people from Ypsi.

    My initial thoughts: when we go to Clark Park, we listen, listen, listen to the students and community members. and when we are done listening, we listen again – ask questions. Then we can better figure out how we can support them and get involved.

  11. Posted April 30, 2012 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Although I didn’t participate in the walkout, I fully support the students who walked out for the cause.
    With the comments above, security (They really get physically aggresive) & administration take our cell phones to delete any form of ‘evidence’ that we might have against them, along with some contact numbers. It didn’t happen to me, but I have classmates whom that happened to.
    The suspended students didn’t get 4 or 5 days. Oh no, most got 5, 7, 10 day suspensions, which, from what I heard, it depended on how much were you in the front of the crowd in the day of the walkout. It’s preposterous.
    People say, ‘Why don’t those kids go to different schools?’ We want to make the difference, we won’t take the easy way out, we won’t be treated like prisoners. No siree. I’ve been living in Detroit for 12 years, and a DPS student for 12 years as well. I can say, I’m proud to be from Western Int’l HS.

  12. Site Friend
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    You got linked to from Rachel Maddow’s site again.

    http://maddowblog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/04/30/11471978-detroit-kids-start-freedom-school?lite

  13. Anonymous Mike
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    A transcript of Raychel Gafford’s speech:

    Hi my name is Raychel Gafford. I’m 17 years old and i am in the 11th grade. We are the students of Western International standing in solidarity with the students of southwestern. We are here not only in solidarity with southwestern but to draw the line and take a stand for our education.

    We are walking out to fight for quality education and to protect our public school system. We are here demanding better education and that our voices be heard. Our school system should work WITH US not against us. I’m sick and tired of being pushed around. WHAT ABOUT YOU??

    All I hear when I hear about DPS schools is closings, chartering, MONEY MONEY MONEY and LACK OF MONEY! To be honest, I don’t think our education should have a price tag. I thought schools are supposed to be about educating students so we can be the best members of the community and grow to be successful adults.

    Schools are assets to the community. What’s going to happen when all our assets are privatized?? 80% of charter schools are for profit. THAT’S NOT WHAT OUR COMMUNITY NEEDS. Schools are not supposed to be ran as businesses, education is a long term investment. We should not be making money off of our students. We are children, WE ARE PEOPLE! NOT—DOLLAR SIGNS!

    The solution is not to close public schools. It’s not a quick fix. It only does long term damage to our neighborhoods. (When schools close, our families, and our neighbors leave the community so that their kids can have access to quality schools and opportunities elsewhere.) We need to improve the public school system here, not shrink it down or sell if off to charters until it disappears completely.

    Our community thrives off of public education. Without our proper education we are less prepared for life. We are the future! WE ARE THE NEXT GENERATION OF ADULTS! WE’RE HERE TELLING YOU THAT THERE IS A PROBLEM! We’re done choosing the lesser of two evils, or accepting solutions that are not good for our communities. This time we’re leading the way. We are demanding respect!

  14. Meta
    Posted May 6, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    There’s a concert this Friday evening in Clark Park.

    Building Community and Defending Our Rights
    Friday, May 11th, 2012 – 5-9 p.m.

    Let Our Voices Be Heard: A Hip-Hop Concert in Clark Park – w/special guests from New York City: Rebel Diaz!!!!
    http://www.rebeldiaz.com/

    -Also performing, local Detroit Hip Hop: Invincible, dPress, Mic Audio, Motor City Rockerz

    Contact us: E-mail: ourvoicesouthwestdetroit@gmail.com,
    Follow us: Twitter: @_OurVoice, #LetOurVoicesBeHeard
    Tumblr: ourvoicesouthwestdetroit.tumblr.com

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] Detroit. As you may recall, several hundred students left their classes, demanding an end to the seemingly-endless cutbacks that are adversely affecting their educational opportunities. Well, the students who walked out, many of whom were expelled for having participated in the […]

  2. […] demanding that our kids be given the educations that they’re entitled to? When do our kids, like the kids of Detroit, start walking out, and demanding what’s rightfully theirs?I totally respect the folks from […]

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