EM trashes HP school library
HP loses major Black History collection
By T. Kelly
The Michigan Citizen
HIGHLAND PARK — “I’m not in the library business.”
That is how Highland Park Schools Emergency Manager Donald B. Weatherspoon responded to angry citizens demanding to know why he tossed into dumpsters not only books, furniture and equipment from Highland Park High School’s library, but one of the most noted Black History collections of any school in the country.
The remark sparked a new wave of outrage among the parents, taxpayers, voters and elected officials present for the EM’s mandated Town Hall meeting, held June 25 at the high school.
“I’m sick and tired of people not in education making decisions,” retired educator Sylvia Culberson told Weatherspoon. She said many of the books are valuable, some signed by the authors, some out of print. “It’s just wrong…I’m Black; I’m a woman, yes, but I have rights.”
Weatherspoon said the book dumping “was a mistake” but that it had been corrected and the books were boxed up, waiting to be given to a foundation or some other institution.
Citizens demanded to know why the books would not stay in the school district. City Council member Rodney Patrick asked Weatherspoon whether the books could not be stored with a local business as was much of the art work from the shuttered McGregor Library. Closing the McGregor was one of the first actions taken by the city’s first Emergency Financial Manager Ramona Pearson Henderson in 2001. It has been closed since.
Historian Paul Lee, a Highland Park resident and a consultant to the school district on the creation of the Black History collection at the school, was alerted June 20 by a source that two dumpsters behind the high school were filled with books and good school equipment.
Lee responded, and working until midnight that same day, he and three others managed to pull out of the dumpsters hundreds of books, many of them from the Black History collection. The books are now stored in a safe place and will be inventoried, Lee said. Noted historian Asa Hilliard served as a consultant on the creation of the school’s Black History collection, he said. ‘It was a collection that rivaled some in colleges,” he said.
Media carts, file cabinets, desks, book shelves, audio visual materials, all were also found in the dumpsters, Lee said. The equipment had been thrown down a stairway, and the boxes of books were thrown into the dumpster with such force, Lee said, it appeared “they wanted to damage the stuff.”
Word of the destruction quickly spread through the city and approximately 50 people showed up the next day at noon for the June 21 meeting of the board of the Leona Group. The Leona Group is a private, for-profit charter company with a failing academic record. It was imposed on the district by the state to run the Highland Park’s three remaining schools. Three appointed city residents sit on the board. The HP elected school board has no authority.
The Leona Group board members said they knew nothing of the trashing of the library.
One Leona board appointee, Andre Davis, reported he had heard about the books being trashed and had gone to the high school that morning ordering workmen to return the desks, shelving, and other equipment lined up outside by the dumpsters back inside the school and to immediately vacate the premises. Which, Davis said, they did.
At the EM’s Town Hall meeting, elected school board member and educator Glenda McDonald said after the meeting that she would be examining the boxes of books stored at the high school to see what had been saved, what was left.
A group of residents calling themselves the Citizens for Highland Park Public Schools have organized and plan to file a police report charging Weatherspoon with a crime once the group has determined the value of what the EM dumped.
St. Sen. Bert Johnson, who represents and lives in Highland Park, was one of the last to speak at the town hall meeting. After describing how Highland Parkers had fought not only to attend a district that once barred them, but to build the Black History collection and how the city suffered now from disinvestment not only of private money, but public as well, commented, “It’s very curious to see an individual that would put books in a dumpster.”