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Metro area supporters join national public school rally

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Teachers, students, parents and others gathered to defend public education — “the hub of a community” — in the United States and called for supporters to champion a robust system free from partisanship.

Ivy Bailey, President, Detroit Federation of Teacher, is surrounded by supporters for a Day of Action rally to defend public schools at Western International High School in Detroit on Thursday January 19, 2017.

It was part of a national day of action in more than 200 cities and towns, with tens of thousands participating. It was coordinated nationally by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, the American Federation of Teachers and community groups across the country.

Public education is in the spotlight following this week’s confirmation hearing for President-elect Donald Trump’s education secretary nominee, Betsy DeVos, a supporter of charter schools.

In Dearborn, they grasped long links of paper created by students to form a human chain around the Dearborn Public Schools Administration Building and held signs reading, “2, 4, 6, 8 ... Public Schools Educate,” and “Public Schools = U.S.A.”

Dearborn Public Schools Superintendent Glenn Maleyko was among the speakers addressing the crowd of about 150.

“It is so important to champion public education,” he said, “and it is not partisan — it’s just about who is going to support public education. On the national level, there still is some negativity with attacks on public education and funding cuts. But actions speak louder than words and your actions show your support today.”

Maya Lewy, 15, a sophomore at Dearborn High, described her experience with public education, saying it’s “given me the opportunity to grow not only academically, but I’ve learned a lot about myself along the way.”

David Hecker, president of the American Federation of Teachers Michigan, referenced what might lie ahead.

“Whatever we face in the future, a united community will prevail,” he said. “President Obama started his career as a community organizer and we saw his presidency consisting of bringing entire communities together. That’s what public education is about. It is the hub of a community.”

Dearborn Mayor John B. O’Reilly Jr. wrapped up the morning event criticizing the uneven performance of charter schools.

“We’ve had problems with charters in the city, but then there are some great ones like the one at the museum here (Henry Ford Academy),” he said. “It is uneven, but public schools take whomever shows up and serves them amazingly well. We’re getting it done on the broadest scale. We have a successful education model for anyone who walks in the door without question.”

In Detroit, inclusion for all students was the focus for a group of about 30 that gathered Thursday in front of Western International High School.

Councilwoman Raquel Castañeda-López urged the Detroit Public Schools Community District and charter schools in the city to create a safe-zones policy for students of all backgrounds.

“Now more than ever it’s important that we stand in solidarity regardless of our immigration status, regardless of our race and our ethnicity and our gender,” she said. “That recognizing that all our human rights are one in the same despite our struggles and despite the color of our skin.

“I looking forward to working in partnership with the AFT, with the Detroit Public Schools and with all of the students here to make sure our city is welcoming and is inclusive as we continue to move forward,” Castañeda-López continued.

Detroit Federation of Teachers President Ivy Bailey said that she also will ask the Detroit Public Schools Community district to adopt the resolution.

“I want our students to know that we will continue to fight for them,” Bailey said during the rally. “We will continue to fight and continue to make sure they are able to come to school and feel safe and feel welcomed.”

Alondra Alverez, a junior at Western, said she came to the rally in support of people she knows who are undocumented or part of the LGBT community.

“I want to make sure they don’t have a fear of coming to school,” she said. “Their families are afraid to drive anywhere, they’re scared to go out. They’re scared to live life because of Donald Trump.”

Alverez said she’s pleased that the students have the support of the teacher’s union and the Detroit City Council.

“It feels that people have our back and we’re not alone in this,” she said.

slewis@detroitnews.com

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