Approximately a dozen teachers, teen mothers and their children were arrested and taken away by Detroit police while staging a peaceful sit-in protest at the Catherine Ferguson Academy in Detroit on Friday April 15th. Eight students, along with their children and some faculty members of the Catherine Ferguson Academy of Detroit, MI began the sit-in at the end of the school day in protest to Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb’s announcement to close the school for pregnant and parenting teens. The decision to occupy was made after many other attempts by students, staff and supporters to have their voices heard by EFM Robert Bobb through letter writing and petition campaigns, to no avail.
The protestors were told by police that they were trespassing and the building needed to be closed. The peaceful occupiers refused to leave and many were brought out in handcuffs. It has been reported by local news that “Some struggled, some screamed, all were put in squad cars and hauled away", while many more protestors and supporters outside watched in shock. The students themselves say they did not resist arrest. One told local reporters, "We just stood there and they just arrested us one by one ."
One supporter recorded this video of a protestor who describes being “manhandled” by police after choosing to sit down and not leave the building:
As this news footage from WXYZ Detroit shows, police gained entry into the building and eventually came back with the young women and took them into custody for trespassing:
The protesters were planning to occupy the school building for an unspecified amount of time and had arranged food and water and plenty of support from outside protestors to accommodate a possible extended sit-in. The protestors released a list of demands prior to the occupation:
No School Closings
Keep All Detroit Schools Public – No More Charters or Privatization
Reinstate all programs and services that have been eliminated, including art & music as well as counselors & social workers
Student Control of Curriculum and School Character to assure that every Detroit school provides equal, quality education for all
No discipline or retaliation against any of the participants in the occupation
On the heels of the shocking announcement last month by Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) Robert Bobb to close up to eight schools and sell up to 45 schools to charter companies, he slated the highly successful and unique Catherine Ferguson Academy for closure. The school, which has been featured in the film Grown In Detroit documenting the school’s urban farm and in O: The Oprah Winfrey Magazine, boasts a 90% graduation rate and 100% college and higher education acceptance upon graduation. The award winning school is specifically for pregnant and parenting teens and their children, offering a wide range of classes and child care. It is the only school of its kind in the nation.
"The school provides pre-natal and parenting classes, and offers high school student mothers the opportunity to finish their high school education immediately after giving birth by providing on-site daycare, early childhood development services, and pre-school for their children, as well as on-site medical, dental and social services, so the young women don't have to miss school to attend appointments. What also makes CFA unique is its organic garden and farm with chickens, goats and a horse, which the students maintain as part of their science education." source
Shanta Driver, National Chairperson of By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), a "Coalition to Defend Aaffirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality", told Voice Of Detroit, “Today Detroit – tomorrow, every city in America. The parents and students of Catherine Ferguson are fighting to maintain the right of every student in our nation to a free, quality public education. Every supporter of public education should do everything possible to support their fight and make sure they succeed.”
The children of the young protestors were turned over to family members and the students and staff were eventually released after being charged with trespass and ticketed. A spokesperson for the Detroit Public Schools spoke to reporters about the protest and the students desperate attempt to protect their school:
“There was a DPS spokesperson on the scene. He said they understand that a school can mean so much to students, parents and teachers, but that a protest is not the way to go about trying to get your message heard. Instead, they are encouraged to talk to Robert Bobb and show that their school needs to stay open.” source
But evidently, "Bobb’s office did not return calls for comment."
Lastly, EFM Robert Bobb also plans to close the Detroit Day School for the Deaf.
Update: There has been a question as to the whether or not the schools will be "sold" or rather converted/turned over to for-profit charter companies. Without changing the link, I will say here that the appropriate word should have been "converted", however defend my choice of the word 'sell' in reference to once publicly owned not-for-profit schools then being run by fo-r profit companies. My mistake was that currently empty or unused schools and property are being sold, the schools referneced in this diary are being closed or offered to charter companies.