Some students skip DPS classes, go to ‘Freedom School’

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

It’s not a typical school.

Four students and five adults sat in a circle in chairs and on the floor of the fourth floor at Central United Methodist Church Wednesday morning.

There were no blackboards, laptops or desks. Neither were there missing ceiling tiles, mold or rodent carcasses — among the health and safety problems recently discovered by city inspectors inside numerous Detroit Public Schools.

Parents, children and other advocates for quality education, fed up with what they say are unsafe, inadequate schools, gathered on one of the most important days of the year — Count Day — to launch what they call the “Let the Children Come” Freedom School.

It is described as a direct descendant of the Freedom Schools founded in Mississippi in the 1960s during the civil rights era to protest inadequately funded segregated schools.

Parent Aliya Moore brought her two daughters, Chrishawna Jefferson, 14, and Tyliya Wilson, 6, to the makeshift school.

“Initially, when the sickouts began, it was just the teachers who were involved and then the students began the walkouts, but there wasn’t a loud voice for parents,” said Moore. “We support teachers and the elected school board, and we felt having this on Count Day would make the biggest statement because we want to show as stakeholders, we have the power.”

But there still were only four children by 10 a.m.

Wednesday morning’s cold and sometimes snowy weather could be a factor, said those gathered. And don’t worry, they cautioned, that children won’t be counted Wednesday.

“If children are in school after today, and for the next 9 or 10 days, they still will be counted,” said Moore.

The state conducts Count Day twice a year. A fall count is used to determine 90 percent of districts’ per-pupil funding, with the rest based on a winter count.

Chrishawna Jefferson, 14, is in the eighth-grade at Paul Robeson-Malcolm X Academy.

“I’m here today because Gov. Rick Snyder is trying to destroy students by telling lies,” she said. “We have to fight for what is right.”

Eban Morales of Highland Park brought his son Wisdom Daniel Morales, 10, a fifth-grader at the Academy of the Americas in southwest Detroit. Morales said he drives his son to school every day and picks him up because there are no schools for his son to attend in Highland Park.

The district was turned over to a charter operator several years ago.

“My son has to attend school in Detroit because I had no choice,” said Morales. “We tried to fight against the emergency manager in Highland Park but he destroyed the whole school district. They have not been kind to people in the cities. We must stand up for the people in Detroit because Highland Park already is lost.”

Wisdom said he does not feel he is in a safe environment.

“People are always writing all over the walls and teachers are always yelling,” he said. “The classrooms are either very cold or very hot, and sometimes a worker will come in and change the lights right in the middle of class.”

Children spent the first part of the morning suggesting questions they could ask each other to learn more about each other. Later in the morning, they selected instruments from a large basket, like drums and maracas.

The idea, the adults said, is to replace classes removed from Detroit Public Schools, including art, gym and music, because of the district’s funding crisis.

“Today is the launch of an idea, a plan to create a network of Freedom Schools throughout the city to respond to the lack of education going on in our schools today,” said Gloria House, a professor emeritus of African American studies from Wayne State University and the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

“We want to establish them after school and on Saturdays,” she said.

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