DETROIT — Members of the Detroit Caucus held a press conference today to discuss the future of the city’s academic landscape in light of the recent announcement by the School Reform Office that a number of Detroit schools were slated for closure at the end of the year. The standing-room only event was attended by community leaders, precinct delegates, block club presidents and leaders from grassroots, faith and civic groups, in addition to parents and administrators. In addition to legislators, speakers included Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones, City Councilman James Tate, Wayne County Commissioner Alisha Bell, Wayne RESA ISD Superintendent Randy Liepa, Wayne RESA ISD Board President Mary Blackmon, and Detroit Board of Education members Deborah Hunter-Harvill and LaMar Lemmons. The conference aimed to propose and discuss alternatives to closure, as well as collaborative measures that could be taken to improve performance in the schools.

“We must work in a united and collective manner on behalf of all children in Michigan,” said state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, chairwoman of the caucus. “Not just traditional public, but charter students as well. Poverty is poverty, and there is a strong correlation between it and poor performance, no matter the school or community. Michigan’s children must remain our number one priority. We cannot continue to hold their futures hostage with political infighting, and so my colleagues and I are committed to having conversations with all stakeholders, regardless of race or political affiliation. In the end, it is just about finding practical, real-world solutions that address their needs in and out of the classroom.”

Proposed solutions ranged from broad changes in focus to altering specific components of the SRO’s plan, including delaying the closure of certain schools that were still in the midst of implementing their School Improvement Grants from the Michigan Department of Education. In addition, clarification was requested from the SRO regarding the closures. While the cutoff standard was simple in theory — schools slated for closure had been in the bottom five percent of school performance for at least three years or more — the criteria for delaying closure, as outlined the SRO’s letter to parents and academic administrators, was less clear, including mention that the schools could remain open if closing them would create an undue hardship.

“You cannot address academic performance issues without simultaneously addressing poverty. To force a family that is already struggling financially to then find alternative transportation for their child to attend a new school is the definition of hardship,” said Rep. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit). “We have made significant investments at many of these schools, and so we need to give those investments our due diligence and let them play out. We Detroit legislators want to make sure the governor and the leadership in Lansing have common-sense solutions to writing legislation that impacts so many children’s lives. Detroit will provide solutions to help not just Detroit, but all communities.” 

Calls were also made to appropriate funds for a school closure impact study, which would examine the impact of a school closing on, but not limited to: academic and behavioral outcomes for affected students, English language learners, teachers and support staff, district finances and assets and the surrounding neighborhood. Legislators argued that these studies should be conducted before closures.

“With these grants, we have been investing in change at these schools, so closing them before allowing the benefits of those investments to come to fruition is financially irresponsible,” said Rep. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit). “Legislators from across the state, from urban and rural areas, Democrat and Republican alike, have been expressing their concerns and asking important questions about the SRO’s flawed process, which has lacked transparency and accountability. Together, we are standing up for Detroit and Michigan’s kids. We need to make this right.”