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Detroit files Title VI Civil Rights complaints against discriminatory corporate school reforms

Public education advocate Helen Moore speaks in Chicago against discriminatory education reforms.

Detroit students, parents and civil rights activists joined a national coalition of youth and community groups from New York to California June 21 to jointly file Title VI civil rights complaints against discriminatory “reform” policies that largely target African American and Latino communities.

Chanting “No education! No life! We’re gonna fight for our rights!” the community groups called for an end to failed policies such as school closures, profit-driven education reform and top-down management practices that exclude communities of color from the decision-making process. The alliance had support from Alabama, Texas, Chicago, Detroit, New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston, Mississippi, Washington, D.C. and Atlanta.

Although there is no credible research supporting the charterization of schools (see Stanford University CREDO Study; RAND Study), the removal of community voice through the dissolution of elected school boards and/or use of appointed boards (see University of Illinois at Chicago Study by Lipman & Gutstein), or the policy of school closures in improving the educational outcomes of children (see University of Chicago Study by Consortium on Chicago School Research), these policies continue to be implemented in largely urban school districts serving African American and Latino children.

Declaring the continued implementation of these policies to be in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Jitu Brown of Chicago’s Kenwood Oakland Community Organization stated, “As community members, we have the right like other communities have to impact the decisions that impact our children’s lives everyday … We are demanding a meeting with Arne Duncan and Russlyn Ali, the assistant secretary of the Office of Civil Rights within two weeks.”Brown said that unless a meeting is granted and “with the desired results,” the national coalition would bring its concerns to “Arne Duncan’s doorsteps.”

Key to the complaints is the right of communities to impact their schools. The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) lists some 48 school districts as financially distressed, and yet only three districts have emergency managers: Detroit, Highland Park and Muskegon. In contrast, students and families from neighboring suburban districts throughout Michigan, whether financially solvent or not, maintain representation through elected school boards, which are crucial to maintaining transparency and accountability at all levels of school governance. Hilary Young, who has children attending Maybury Elementary in Southwest Detroit, successfully organized with other parents to stop the closure of Maybury only to see its principal, Ellen Snedeker, removed “without input from or explanation to the parents in this community.”

Young said that under Snedeker’s leadership, Maybury has met AYP seven years in a row. She added that Maybury received a very good report from their visit from MDE, giving a few very minor suggestions for correction.

“The academic plan also states that central office will take on a customer service style of leadership, making sure we are giving our customer what they need,” Young said. “The decision to replace our principal was done right along side this announcement for the New Academic Plan. Why are decisions being made that are in direct contrast to the plan proposed?”

Young says all parents in Southwest Detroit want answers as to why their children’s education is being jeopardized by changes that are not data-driven.

Prior to the Chicago trip, a number of community activists and volunteers worked over the course of a week to collect Title VI complaints from parents all over Detroit. Complaints forwarded to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights highlight the absence of authentic parent representation in school governance, the lack of bilingual services and primary language support for students, harassment of students by security guards and the criminalization of students through discriminatory zero tolerance policies that “push out” students. Parents of DPS students and other community members are continuing to spearhead Title VI complaint drives.

Veteran civil rights/public education activist Helen Moore of Keep the Vote/No Take Over Coalition joined the group in Chicago. In her statement to the press about the situation in Detroit, Moore said she’s never seen anything like the current changes in public education.

“Over 45 years I have been working for our children to get a quality education. I have never seen anything so rampantly horrible as what’s happening with these reform movements. And these people who are greedy corporation people who have come into our system, taking the best out of our system, controlling our money,” Moore said.

“In Detroit, we now have an emergency manager system, where the emergency manager is a dictator. He controls the parents. And in Detroit we have a parent group called Parent Network that is privatized. You won’t see the regular parents involved. You will see this group that is being used to do whatever it is that they want them to do … All the things that have happened to our children in the last few years are the same all over the country. Why is that that Brown and Black children have to be treated like secondary citizens?”

And educational justice cannot come soon enough for Moore, who cautioned that while Detroit parents and students were protesting in Chicago, DPS Emergency Manager Roy Roberts “was rapidly fostering a plan to close nine more schools and deduct 10 percent from teachers’ pay without prior meaningful involvement of the parents, staff and community.” Further emphasizing the urgency of the fight, Moore added: “We are paying their salaries. It is because of our children attending the DPS that they have a job. This amounts to taxation without representation as well as total disrespect of us stakeholders. We have to fight till we win for our children.”

Following the Chicago press conference, Justin Hamilton, press secretary for the U.S. Department of Education, issued a press statement promising an investigation into their complaint.

Arne Duncan’s office also contacted education organizer Jitu Brown, promising that a date for a sit-down meeting would be communicated no later than June 27.

A national coalition of community groups will take part in the “Education Freedom Rides” to Washington, D.C. later this summer. For more information, call Maiyoua Vang at 559.269.4716.

Photo Courtesy of Gabriela Santiago-Romero


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