Detroit — Continuing frustration over conditions in Detroit Public Schools boiled over Wednesday when about 35 students from East English Village Preparatory Academy walked out at noon and ended up in a confrontation with district police.
One of the individuals who marched along with the students is a By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) organizer from Los Angeles, who described the confrontation.
“The students and BAMN organizers marched down Cadieux to Harper, and we were very spirited,” said Hoku Jeffrey, 38. “While we were walking down Cadieux, some of the Detroit Public Schools officers, who were in squad cars, drove behind us, then on the side of us and then in front of us. When we turned down Harper, some of the officers jumped out of their cars and started grabbing people, pepper spraying them and Macing students in the face.”
Jeffrey said three adults were arrested, including East English Village teacher and BAMN member Nicole Conaway, and BAMN organizers David Douglass and Justin Cheong. The DPS school district did not name those arrested.
“We then walked to a nearby auto shop where the people who were pepper-sprayed and Maced were allowed to wash their faces,” said Jeffrey.
But DPS spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski disputed what happened.
“I can confirm that a number of students from East English Village Preparatory Academy left the building at approximately noon today and gathered with a DPS teacher and two adults in the middle of Cadieux,” she said in a statement to the Detroit News.
“They proceeded to walk down the center of road toward Harper. The group refused to comply when DPSPD asked them to move out of the street and onto the sidewalk because they were obstructing traffic and in danger of being injured by moving vehicles.”
Zdrodowski said three adults were taken into custody by district police and transferred to the Detroit Detention Center for processing. Two of the adults were being charged with failure to follow the lawful order of a police officer. The third adult is being charged with interfering with a police officer in the lawful performance of their duties.
“This individual was pepper sprayed because he attempted to prevent the arrest of one of the other adults,” Zdrodowski said. “All students were directed by DPSPD to return to school. No students were detained, and no students were injured or pepper sprayed.”
The walkout is the latest in a series of teacher sickouts and student walkouts in the past weeks. The actions resulted in the closing of 88 out of 97 schools on Jan. 20. The following day, the district asked a judge to issue a restraining order and a preliminary injunction against teachers who engaged in the alleged work strikes, ordering them to stop the sickouts and return to work.
On Monday, Judge Cynthia Stephens of the Michigan Court of Claims refused to issue a temporary restraining order against the Detroit Federation of Teachers, interim president Ivy Bailey or ousted president Stve Conn in a lawsuit filed by Detroit Public Schools over the repeated sickouts.
Among the school buildings teachers say are in deplorable conditions — one of the issues they are fighting to improve — is Spain Elementary/Middle School.
Zdrodowski said the district is “developing a plan” to address some violations at Spain cited by city inspectors, including replacement of missing ceiling tiles, missing floor tiles and loose door frames.
However, she said the district lacks funding for roof and window replacement, “which would cost upwards of $5.4 million,” and that it’s “unlikely” DPS can fix all of the problems in the gym without aid from the state, such as the $715 million package sought by Gov. Rick Snyder.
City inspections of schools began Jan. 12. Fixes must be made at Spain on or before Feb. 16.