‘EAA is failing us’
Mumford students take a stand against inadequate education
By Victor L. Walker
Special to the Michigan Citizen
DETROIT — A group of more than a dozen student leaders at Mumford High School met Feb. 7 to address what they call issues of social inequity in their school. They call themselves the Social Justice League (SJL) and have aligned with teachers, parents and community members to improve the quality of education they currently receive as part of the state’s Educational Achievement Authority (EAA) school district.
During the meeting, students discussed a series of letters and personal testimonies they wrote to their principal Dr. Donnie Davis and Detroit Public Schools (DPS) Emergency Financial Manager Roy Roberts to address issues on behalf of the student body. Students say they are concerned about math “illiteracy,” large classroom size, inadequate number of counselors, safety in the schools and failure of the administration to protect special needs students.
“We were promised equity, choice and reinvention by the EAA. In actuality, we received inequality, restriction, and regression. Last year, Detroit Public Schools gave Mumford equity, choice, and reinvention. We want DPS back,” wrote students of the SJL.
Students describe how they are without books but go to school in a newly built $50 million building. The students also say their appeals to Davis and Roberts have been ignored.
In a phone interview with Dr. Davis, Feb. 13, Davis told the Michigan Citizen he is “very supportive” of the students coming together.
“We encourage our students to meet and come up with creative ways to improve our school,” he said. “There are a number of student-led groups emerging at Mumford, including a student council and Black caucus aimed at gaining a broader perspective of student voices at Mumford.”
Davis says Mumford, under the EAA umbrella, is “definitely” providing the education the students need.
“We want to improve it. We have books in all of our classes and all the courses students need to graduate are being offered,” he said. “We offer courses beyond what our students need to graduate.”
Davis also described innovative methods of delivering instruction at Mumford, including online learning and technology that “puts students at the center of the learning experience.”
“What we do at Mumford is a little different than it has been in the past. Teachers are involved but are not the center of the learning process. The students are the center of the learning process,” Davis said.
According to Davis, some of the complaints the students have are valid and are being addressed.
But, he adds, “Simply complaining about issues doesn’t help, especially when some issues are matters of safety and must be adhered to.”
Davis describes Mumford as a “first-year school” and says he recognizes the challenges with educating more than 1,100 students. “How do we build on what the students have identified?” he asked. “I am one man, I can’t do this alone.”
Davis says he welcomes ideas.
During the meeting, students considered solutions to their complaints and will include them in a proposal they plan to present to Davis and ask that he address their issues related to academics, teacher quality and public safety.
Several students complained about EAA’s computer program, Buzz.
“Most of us feel that Buzz doesn’t teach us anything. The videos sometimes have nothing to do with the questions that we need to answer and are sometimes pointless and childish cartoons,” said students.
Mumford teacher Brooke Harris testified before state legislators earlier this year about Buzz’s ineffectiveness.
Students also said they do not feel safe at school and security is alternately too lax or too strict. SJL Vice President Tasha Fields says she is unsafe at Mumford and she believes security “doesn’t address issues in a timely manner.”
Some students said they are also afraid to come to school and describe Mumford as a “hostile environment.”
“We are getting half an education in a complete correctional facility,” one student said.
Another of the complaints include being “constantly watched throughout the day,” being expected to wear uniforms and ID badges and being frequently harassed by security. In fact, security officers were present at the student meeting and, at one point, began to speak during the student’s meeting.
Harris says her students deserve a quality education and to have their opinions and ideas heard by those in charge.
Harris advises SJL and allows the students to take the lead on the direction of the group.
“I want them to succeed. If anyone is going to lead this civil rights movement on education, it’s going to be students,” Harris said, adding she’s concerned the students are not being taken seriously by Davis and EAA/DPS leadership. She believes fear tactics are being used to undermine the student movement.
“Students are afraid of punishment for speaking out or joining our group and staff are in fear of our at-will employment status,” she said. “This is making our efforts to build alliances and gain more support inside of the school rather difficult.”
SJL members believe students would be better served under the DPS system because the EAA has not delivered on its promise to educate them effectively.
Community activist and writer Tolu Olorunda, DPS Board Member Elena Herrada, Detroit Public Library Commission President Russ Bellant and Helen Moore of Keep the Vote/No Takeover were some of the community members in attendance who witnessed student testimonies.