Reactions strong to possibly closing 24 Detroit schools

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

The looming closure of 38 Michigan schools, including 24 in the Detroit Public Schools Community District, has received a mixed reaction.

The state released school rankings identifying consistently failing schools that are in jeopardy of closing. Those schools have ranked in the bottom 5 percent for 2014, 2015 and 2016.

As many as 24 of 119 Detroit schools in the report released Friday could be shuttered as soon as this summer, with another 25 in 2018, if they remain among the state’s lowest performers for another year.

“This weekend’s decision by the Michigan School Reform Office is just another blow to the progress we are trying to make for Detroit’s schools, students and families,” said Ivy Bailey, Detroit Federation of Teachers president, in a statement Monday. “Shuttering schools, displacing students and burdening parents aren’t the way to improve public education in Michigan.”

Bailey said the potential closures come after Detroit teachers complained about deplorable school conditions, out-of-date textbooks and lack of resources in school buildings.

Detroit schools recently regained local control after being under emergency management since 2009.

At least one organization expressed support for closing low-performing schools.

The Great Lakes Education Project called on the state to shut the “worst of the worst” schools. The organization said education officials have spent $7 billion on failed school-turnaround efforts.

“The simple fact is these schools are failing our kids and their families deserve better,” said GLEP Executive Director Gary Naeyaert in a statement. “If the SRO exercises the ‘unreasonable hardship’ exemption to avoid closing any of these schools, we expect them to implement dramatic restructuring to give these students a chance at a successful future.”

Chrystal Graham, with three children and three nieces enrolled in Thirkell Elementary-Middle School, was surprised the school was designated low performing. She attended the school as well as her parents, she said.

“They need to keep this school open because it’s a help for the community,” Graham said. “If they close this school, where the hell are they going to go? Nobody has transportation like that. We barely have transportation to get here. Most of the people who come here walk. I feel they should keep the school open. It’s convenient for the neighborhood. … It’s mostly poverty over here.”

She said the school has a new principal who needs to be given a chance to improve performance. The previous principal, Clara Smith, was one of 13 DPS officials convicted for their involvement in a $2.7 million kickback scheme involving a school vendor.

State officials said Friday there will be a 30- to 45-day review period to determine what schools would close as early as June 30.

The state School Reform Office conducts the review to make sure a better-performing school is close enough for students to attend.

State Rep. Sylvia Santana, D-Detroit, said she was disappointed that three schools in her district — Ann Arbor Trail Magnet School, Detroit Institute of Technology at Cody and Henderson Academy — were slated to close.

“I will do everything in my power to defend our community from this ill-conceived policy,” Santana said. “School closings should be the absolute last step we take.”

Detroit teachers supporting the group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) called the closings a “shameless attack on the young people of our city.”

BAMN organized a march outside Osborn High School on Monday afternoon.

“We wage this fight to save the future of our city and its young people,” said Steve Conn, a Detroit Western High School teacher, in a statement.

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Twitter: @NicquelTerry