The idea that individuals trusted with the education system of this city would engage in criminal activities that are directly contrary to the values of honesty, hard work and good character that they seek to impart upon school-going children is incomprehensible.

The recent federal indictment of 13 current and former principals in the Detroit Public Schools, some of whom have already pleaded guilty for taking part in a million dollar-kickback scheme that dates to 2002 with vendor Norman Shy of Allstate Sales, is one of the biggest stories to come out of the continued demise of the educational system that principals are supposed to protect with integrity.

Some of the principals involved include James Hearn of Marcus Garvey Academy, Josette Buendia of Bennett Elementary School, Nina Graves-Hicks, the former principal of Davis Aerospace Technical High School, and others who are all accused of receiving prepaid gift cards, cash and sometimes checks from Shy in exchange for school supplies that the feds say the schools often didn’t receive.

Schools are the sanctuary of our educational system, and the principals and teachers are its chief priests. That is why we entrust our children to their care. We expect the principals to be of the highest ethical and professional standard because they are called upon to lead by example.

News of the indictments, which became a national story, only devalues the meaning of education and sends the wrong message about a district that is struggling to find its identity and the role it ought to play in meeting the needs of Detroit’s children.

Everyone who is mad about the state of the district and has led protests about the state takeover of it should be equally outraged about principals stealing the dreams of innocent children. The corruption scheme laid out by federal prosecutors gives parents another reason, among many, to pull their children from the school system.

Andre Smith, who was actively involved in the parent-teacher association at Cass Tech High School before his son graduated in 2012, said he was very disappointed after reading news of the indictment.

“What do we expect the kids to think when they are supposed to look up to the adults for leadership? This sends a horrible message about what is happening in our schools, and our kids suffer because of a few principals.”

Smith said he is not giving up on the district and what happened should not stop those who want to help DPS. But he knows the severity of the crisis has implications that reach far beyond the district.

That implication is the perception that the district now creates: principals are stealing from the children.

“We can’t just shortchange the kids like that,” Smith said.

Bankole Thompson is the host of “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” on Super Station 910AM at noon Fridays. His column appears Monday and Thursday.

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