Oakman School parents ask EM for answers
By T. Kelly
The Michigan Citizen
DETROIT—Parents of children at Oakman Orthopedic School have questions that no one in the administration of Emergency Manager Roy Roberts seem able to answer.
Roberts told Oakman parents April 10 that the school was closing. He made the decision without their input or comments and could not answer specific questions, according to LSCO President Alyia Moore. Since then, questions have multiplied, Moore says.
“We have been told lies on top of lies regarding this closure,” she said. “We have been frustrated by Roy Roberts’ misinformation and lack of candor.”
Parents have requested documentation regarding capacity, enrollment and costs for building repairs — the reasons Roberts provided to justify the closing.
The newest question: Did or didn’t EM Roberts sell their specially-equipped building to a neighborhood church and block club as parents report the EM’s Assistant Superintendent of Communication Steve Wasko told five parents May 17?
In a phone call, Wasko said the building has not been sold. It is listed for sale on the DPS Web site for $46,464 and available July 1.
Wasko described how Pride Area Community Council President Willie Dickerson reached out to contact DPS “through a former state representative” shortly after Roberts announced the closing. New Third Hope has long planned construction of a community center. Dickerson believed a renovated Oakman could serve as the center.
According to Moore, Wasko attended a meeting held May 17 at Oakman. Parents knew about the meeting but were not permitted to attend. They were told it was a staff meeting, Moore said. They waited for an hour and at the meeting’s end, were told by Wasko that Third New Hope Baptist Pastor Edward L. Branch and Dickerson had decided to purchase the building.
Wasko said he did not say the building had been purchased. He said he explained the church and community “leader” were talking about the purchase.
New Third Hope denies the purchase. “That’s a complete lie,” said Sandra West, Third New Hope executive assistant to the pastor, in a phone interview. She said persons had been passing out fliers with that information before service May 19 and upset the congregation.
“We adopted that school. We provide safe haven for the children if they have nowhere to go. We purchased a TV; we’ll do anything to support them,” West said.
Moore said that in her three years as president of the LSCO, the church has not been active with Oakman. Moore said she attended a meeting May 21 with Dickerson and an assistant pastor from Third New Hope, whose name she forgot. At the meeting, which Dickerson tape recorded, when asked if the church would put in writing that they had not purchased Oakman, the assistant pastor refused, saying they didn’t need to do that.
“That he wouldn’t put it in writing bothers me,” Moore said.
Dickerson had not returned phone calls for this story by press time nor had a call to New Hope looking for the assistant pastor to comment been returned. West said someone with the information would call back.
Roberts originally told parents that the building needed $900,000 in repairs, work that parents can’t see when examining the building. And Roberts won’t supply documentation of required repairs.
Parents want to know why the EM administration is unable to get the correct count of students currently enrolled at Oakman. The EM claims enrollment is 288 and the building is at 50 percent capacity According to the EM, the building should house 446 children. That’s an unrealisitic number, Moore says.
Here are the numbers according to DPS records on its Web site: In 2009, enrollment was 272; 305 in 2010; 314 in 2011; and 277 in 2012.
Parents say enrollment is 315, and two or three new students had enrolled as recently as May 20.
Moore says Roberts must be counting the library, medical treatment and therapy rooms as classroom space to arrive at a figure of 446. They say enrollment has not declined 50 percent.
“We asked Wasko where would he put the additional students,” Moore said. He did not comment nor could he explain to parents the discrepancy in numbers, Moore said.
Parents are worried whether the two buildings — Noble and Henderson —scheduled to receive Oakman’s students will be ready to accommodate their special needs, Moore said.
Oakman opened in 1929 and is a specially constructed one story building with railings in the wide hallways to accommodate wheelchairs, an enclosed playground and specially-equipped rooms for nurses to administer medications, provide catherizations and assist with seizure recoveries, among other medical services.
Moore said neither Roberts, nor Wasko will provide or promise to provide a timeline of what changes would be made at Henderson and Noble to accommodate the special needs of some of the Oakman students.
An informed source at Noble said, with the influx of Oakman students, Noble would likely be overcrowded as some classrooms now are.
According to Moore, the principals from Noble and Henderson attended the May 17 meeting. After the meeting, the two were “honest about the gang violence and the violence” at their schools, she said.
That is the most frequently heard comment from parents and alumni, fear and frustration over losing the nurturing spirit at Oakman.
“The kids don’t make fun of each other, they help each other,” said one father, who himself had graduated from Oakman.
“It’s a real school,” said elected board member Tawana Simpson. Noting that the school historically anchored the community, Simpson told how, as a child, she and her grandparents, who lived one block away, would bake German chocolate cakes and take them to the school.
New homes have recently been built on streets surrounding the school, and 38 more are planned. An odd time to close the school, parents say.
Neighborhood destruction is a casualty of school closings. Since the first state takeover in 1999, DPS has suffered a net loss of 181 schools.
Roberts, who announced last month he was leaving May 16, said then that at the time of his appointment, his instructions from Gov. Rick Snyder were to “bomb” and “devastate” DPS.
Roberts last week announced he will stay for another six months.