Some of students who walked out against Southwestern HS closure in Clark Park April 25, 2012/WSWS photo

By Lawrence Porter
April 27, 2012 

Over 200 students at two high schools in Detroit’s southwestern neighborhood, Southwestern High and Western International, walked out of class on Wednesday to protest the closure of Southwestern, the poor conditions at Western, and the growth of charter schools.

Students from Western said they walked out of school just before 11 a.m. in sympathy with the students at Southwestern High School, which is among nine schools slated for closure next year in the Detroit Public Schools district.

Natalie Rivera/WSWS photo

“Our walkout at Western was inspired by the walkout at Southwestern and it was in solidarity with it, but it was also against the conditions in our school system,” stated Freddie Burse, one of the leaders of the walkout.

Freddie said the students organized the event themselves via Facebook after a student heard that there was going to be a walkout at Southwestern.

“The purpose of the demonstration was to make our voices heard and to speak up on our education system because we feel there are a lot problems there,” continued Burse.

“We are also opposed to the growth of charter schools. The main one here is Caesar Chavez. The privatization of schools is the death of the school system.”

Several students said they were especially upset with the announcement that Southwestern High School would be closed next year.

Denby High students Anjanette Payne, 16; Zana Davis, 17; Marquita Kennedy, 16 and Tamara Hollis, 17. “As a senior, I feel it’s not just about me, it’s about other kids too,” said Davis, one of the organizers of the boycott. (Laura Phelps / The Detroit News)

“It’s about trying to save Southwestern High School,” stated Natalie Rivera, a junior at Western, as she and several hundred students gathered in Clark Park with students from her school and Southwestern. “We are tired of the closing of the schools. We want them to stop.

“Southwestern students walked out so we felt we should walk out in solidarity. We want all of the schools to join together,” continued Rivera. “We don’t even have proper books in the school. We have to learn with old stuff that is not updated. The teachers take their own money to pay for the stuff we need.”

The walkouts at Western International and Southwestern are the third student walkouts in the last month in Detroit.

Denby High students Anjanette Payne, 16; Zana Davis, 17; Marquita Kennedy, 16 and Tamara Hollis, 17. “As a senior, I feel it’s not just about me, it’s about other kids too,” said Davis, one of the organizers of the boycott. (Laura Phelps / The Detroit News)

Last month students at Denby High school walked out after the announcement that the school will be placed in the new statewide district for what are being billed as low-performing schools—the Education Achievement Authority (EAA). Another spontaneous protest took place at Fredrick Douglass Academy when 50 students walked out because they did not have teachers. After protesting that they wanted an education, the students were suspended for a day.

The Detroit school system has been decimated by the actions of a series of Emergency Managers—state-appointed directors that take over a school district in financial distress, that have been appointed by both Democratic and Republican governors—the systematic defunding of the system by state and federal administrations and the collapse of city property tax revenues, the archaic basis of public education funding in the US.

Avontae Latham/WSWS photo

The present Emergency Manager, Roy Roberts, appointed by Republican Governor Rick Snyder, is implementing the closure of Southwestern. Roberts, a former General Motors executive, has outlined a plan to model a new school district dominated by charter schools similar to the New Orleans Recovery School District created after Hurricane Katrina. The charter school policy is in line with President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top educational initiative.

Avonte Latham, a junior involved in the walkout, said the government should provide more financial assistance to the Detroit school district. “I feel Michigan needs to give more money for schools. This is holding things back by closing schools,” charged Avonte.

“I don’t think they should be closing schools every year. They are forcing people to leave Michigan. When they decided to close Southwestern HS we decided to take a stand. Enough is enough. They are taking the schools out of the DPS system and putting them in a new system. It’s not right.”

Gabriela Alcazar/WSWS photo

Several students and their supporters said the closure of Southwestern would have a major impact on the choices for schools next year. Gabriela Alcazar, a community activist who attended the protest, said the students at Southwestern have been given two choices for schools that will only make matters worse.

“If Southwestern is closed the student will either go to Western or Northwestern,” stated Alcazar. “Southwestern is already overstretched with 1,700 students. Northwestern is 15 miles away.”

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Students protest in Clark Park, across the street from Western International High School in Detroit Wednesday, April 25, 2012. Students suspended for the action are now planning to hold a "freedom school" in the same pa

By David Sands

April 27, 2012 

Students suspended for walking out of class at Detroit’s Western International High School earlier this week to protest school closures and demand a better education, are holding a “freedom school” Friday in Clark Park, across the street from their official school building.

Students left class Wednesday morning to protest the closing of Southwestern High School, which many fear would lead to overcrowding at Western, and to demand more resources and greater teacher engagement for the district’s schools.

Southwestern’s nearly 600 students will be offered space at Western International and Northwestern high schools next year, according to the district.

Detroit school board member Elena Herrada waiting to testify against consent agreement at Detroit City Council meeting April 2, 2012

Detroit Board of Education member Elena Herrada told the Detroit News that up to 180 students were suspended from Western and Southwestern high schools following Wednesday’s action. Detroit Public Schools spokesman Steven Wasko told The Huffington Post about 100 students were suspended for five days following the walkout.

School officials at Western did not return repeated requests for comment.

Wasko said concerns about a potential lack of supplies at Western are unfounded. “Western was one of the schools with top scholarships awards, coming in after Renaissance and Cass” high schools for the 2010-11 school year, securing more than $13.9 million in grants and scholarships.

One Western student told The Huffington Post she could be facing more than a suspension. Raychel Gafford, 17, said she has been singled out by school authorities for her vocal role in the walkout and that the district’s police have indicated she may face unspecified charges.

Gafford said students are organizing the freedom school for the same reasons they walked out. “We’re sticking together and we’re not backing down from this,” she said. “We were thrown out of school for fighting for an equal education and we’re doing this to show we’re still going to be learning even if we got kicked out of school.”

Classes at the freedom school will be held with help from community volunteers for the duration of the students’ suspensions, including over the weekend.

Greg Pratt posted this photo with an account of the Freedom School on its Facebook page

A Facebook page promoting the freedom school puts the number of participating students at more than 150:

We do not understand why we are being punished with a loss of educational opportunity when that is exactly what we were fighting for. To further demonstrate our commitment to education, we will be attending our own school taught by ourselves and community educators for the duration of our suspension.

Gafford said the freedom school would cover a number of subjects, including the history of the civil rights movement, hip-hop, and art classes, and that space would be provided for students to make up missed class work.

Raychel’s mother, Amber Gafford, 34, said she supports her daughter and other students fighting for a quality education.

“I wish there were more kids doing this,” she said of their decision to walk out. “The children, they aren’t doing it to be malicious to the school. They have a reason they’re doing it. Their voices should be heard.”

The freedom school is the latest in a series of recent student actions at Detroit schools.

Around 50 students were suspended March 29 after leaving their classrooms at Frederick Douglass Academy to protest the school’s shortage of teachers. And hundreds of students marched in front of Denby High School on March 16 to protest their school’s transfer into a new state-run district.

Below is WSWS video of parents protesting former DPS EFM Robert Bobb’s firing of Western High School principal.

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