Bankole: Whitmer shuns Detroit schools in COVID-19 reopening plans

Bankole Thompson
View Comments

On the surface, it appears Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is doing all the right things when it comes to Detroit. Looking at her recent executive order requiring implicit bias training for all medical professionals seeking licensing from the state, you’d think the governor is ahead of her time.

A cursory examination of Whitmer’s recent dealings with Detroit, especially its school system, however, will reveal something deeper than just political platitudes during press conferences.

Her relationship with the city betrays the well-choreographed remarks made in exclusive interviews intended to dazzle the imaginations of national magazine writers happy to cast the governor as a breath of fresh air in the COVID-19 era without any critical look at her Black agenda (if she has one).

Detroit School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti has been concerned about some of Gov. Whitmer's recent actions, Bankole writes.

A revealing interview last week on my radio show with Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools Community District, further pulled the curtain back on the governor’s charade.  

Vitti, who made it clear during the interview that he’s been generally supportive of the governor, has nonetheless been concerned about some of her recent actions.

For example, no one from the district offices was selected to be on the governor’s Return to Learn Advisory Council to provide recommendations on how to reopen schools in the fall. Not even Vitti, who is leader of the state’s largest school district and someone who has his finger on the pulse of issues relating to education and race.

Instead, Whitmer turned to a familiar ally, Tonya Allen, the president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation to serve as chair of the task force. She also appointed 17-year-old Dominic Gonzales from the Academy of the Americas, a DPSCD school, to serve on the committee. 

Besides Allen’s merits of being a reliable supporter of Whitmer and the fact that she wields an education checkbook, she has no administrative powers to implement anything in DPSCD.

Vitti and the school board members do. Someone from inside the district with knowledge regarding what will work in the COVID-19 era should have been on the task force.

A more open-minded governor would have chosen Vitti to lead the advisory panel because he has shown himself to be independent, someone who looks at facts without political expediency and blind loyalty.

He was perhaps the only superintendent of schools who openly criticized Whitmer’s blunder in Benton Harbor, when she tried to shut down the only high school in that smallest Black city within six months of her governorship.

“Real problems exist in Benton Harbor, but they need to be met with authentic problem solving that respects real issues related to race, class and a history of inequity. Closing the high school is the easy and wrong answer,” Vitti said at the time.

Since then Vitti has not shied away from publicly criticizing Whitmer on social media as well as giving her kudos when he thought she did the right thing. But the governor who touted education during her campaign probably doesn’t want Vitti at the education table because he is not a bootlicker.

Vitti also indicated during his monthly appearance on my show that the district has met all the benchmarks under the state financial review guidelines and should now be removed from oversight by the state. He’s gotten no real signal from state treasurer Rachel Eubanks about a timeline to review and end the oversight structure.

Adding to the confusion, the state hasn’t guaranteed funding request Vitti made to support the parents and students, most of whom are Black, who for fear of the pandemic prefer virtual learning over face-to-face classroom teaching during the fall semester.

All of these issues remain instructive for the future because it exposes the deficiencies of the Whitmer administration's ability to tackle real issues of race and class.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which broadcasts at 11 a.m. weekdays on 910AM.

View Comments