Pastors, local officials urge action to fix DPS

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Metro Detroit pastors, civil rights advocates and local officials called Friday for immediate action to fix Detroit Public Schools and defended teachers who have staged sickouts to protest poor classroom conditions.

The show of unity across from DPS’ Fisher Building headquarters included U.S. Rep. John Conyers, city Councilwoman Mary Sheffield and the Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit Branch NAACP. Standing at a podium in the frigid air, they addressed reporters and two DPS school board members, Tawanna Simpson and LaMar Lemmons.

Anthony, who is pastor of Fellowship Chapel Church, was joined by clergy from several other local churches.

Conyers addressed reports of children wearing coats and hats in DPS classrooms because of heating problems.

“It’s cold outside but it’s also cold in the classrooms,” he said. “We represent all these young people and their parents and we’re saying this is not ending. The struggle goes on and we will be there with you.”

District teachers have staged a series of sickouts over the past two months, including a mass call-off Wednesday that forced DPS to close 88 of its 97 schools. The district filed suit the same day against the Detroit Federation of Teachers and other groups, asking the Michigan Court of Claims to bar what the district says are illegal strikes.

A hearing on DPS’ request for a preliminary injunction is scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Michigan Court of Appeals in Cadillac Place.

Anthony said he supports “legitimate” teacher groups, including the DFT, in their efforts to bring attention to deteriorating conditions in the classroom.

“But we do not support rogue teachers’ groups out there,” he said. “Now is not the time to punish teachers, but rather, it is time to lift them up.”

The DFT has not sanctioned the sickouts, but other groups have, including DPS Teachers Fight Back and Detroit Strike to Win, which backs ousted DFT president Steve Conn.

Other speakers called for the state to pay off hundreds of millions of dollars in DPS debt and return the district to local control.

Sheffield said she was standing “with my fellow freedom fighters demanding justice for our children.”

“This is 2016, but urban education is still separate and unequal,” she said. “The emergency manager is nothing more than the Jim Crow law for segregation. We’re telling the governor and the emergency manager to pay up and take your hands off our school system.

“The power is with the people, the students, the teachers, and we will not be silent.”

The Rev. Norman Thomas, pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Detroit, denounced the state’s use of emergency managers to run DPS and other financially troubled districts.

“Public schools have been destroyed under emergency managers,” he said. “Recall the emergency manager system so the schools can be built up again.”