Activists vow to keep fighting for Detroit schools

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — Dozens of community members, activists, students and teachers rallied at various public schools in Detroit on Thursday morning to argue the importance of both local control and awareness of the upcoming school board election, which will feature 72 candidates.

At the Ronald Brown Academy on Detroit’s east side, the rally was of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it variety, wedged between the dark of the morning in the early 7 o’clock hour and the start of the school day.

The Detroit Federation of Teachers backed the walk-ins at the Brown academy and other schools, including the Mann Learning Community and Davison Elementary-Middle School.

The brevity of the walk-ins was a feature, not a bug, and reflects a shift in tactics for Detroit teachers. Teacher sickouts were part of the 2015-16 school year. But that tactic angered critics, some of them powerful members of the legislature, and inspired legal action against their organizers.

Walk-ins allow both a point to be made and for class to go on as scheduled, without disruptions that cost students school days and send parents scrambling to rearrange their days to take care of children given an unexpected day off.

A script for Thursday’s walk-in, prepared by a community organizer with 482Forward, a group that fights for “education justice” in the city, laid out the template for a successful rally.

■ Organizers would arrive about 6:45 a.m., with coffee and refreshments for other organizers and participants.

■ By 7 a.m., participants would start to show.

■ By 7:30 a.m., speakers would begin. There should be no more than four, the script guided, and no one should speak longer than two minutes.

■ A student or teacher would open with a greeting explaining the purpose of the walk-in. A parent would hammer home the point that Detroit schools need “more resources, not less,” and “more investment, not closure.”

■ A community or clergy member would remind ralliers to vote in November. There are 72 candidates in the Detroit Board of Education election, and both parents and organizers expressed concern that little was known about some of them, or their plans if elected.

■ A student, the script said, should close out the rally.

At the Brown academy, that student was Kenedi Cain, 12.

“Let’s go inside and have a great day of school,” Kenedi said to conclude her brief remarks.

Afterward, Kenedi, a seventh-grader, admitted that she had been tapped to speak because she was “the first student seen” by walk-in participant and Brown attendance officer Mike Bellovich, who is also her basketball coach.

Bellovich, a graduate of Redford High School, attributed much of the troubles of the Detroit Public Schools Community District to racism, both then and now.

“I was in high school when the desegregation order was signed in 1971,” Bellovich said. “White people left in droves,” which he said challenged the viability of the neighborhood school model in Detroit.

“When I was a student, we were held up as a national model for great schools,” Bellovich said.

That’s not the case anymore, said Shawn Kendrick, a Detroit schools parent who worried that Detroit students not only were behind their suburban counterparts, but students globally.

Kendrick, 50, brought his 2-year-old daughter, Amia, to the walk-in.

“Eighteen, 19 years from now, what will she have to look forward to?” Kendrick asked.

Kendrick also is a Detroit schools graduate, and remembered the glory days. He has a 16-year-old daughter in the district. He said it has become commonplace for teachers to request parental help for basic classroom supplies in recent years.

The Rev. Lindsey Anderson of the Detroit Cooperative Church, a combined ministry of four congregations, took part in the walk-in. She got on the loud speaker and urged those in attendance to “fight at the ballot box, and keep fighting for our schools.”

The school district declined comment Thursday, per spokeswoman Chrystal Wilson.