Members of the new Detroit school board vowed Wednesday night to prevent state officials from shutting down low-performing schools — and to find another way to fix those schools.
“The school board is committed to improving our schools, not shutting them down,” board president Iris Taylor said in a prepared statement she read after the board voted unanimously to hire a law firm to battle state-mandated closures.
The state school reform office last month released a list of 38 schools across the state that will be shut down for low-performance unless the office decides that closing the schools would cause a hardship to students. The 38 schools include 16 in the Detroit Public Schools Community District and eight schools in the state-run Education Achievement Authority that will return to the main district next summer.
The board hired the Miller Canfield law firm, which produced a memo last summer that is expected to be the basis of the district’s legal fight with the state. The memo argues that because the Detroit Public Schools Community District is officially a new legal entity that replaced the Detroit Public Schools, it should be given a fresh start and not face consequences for decisions made under the old district.
Now, district officials have directed managers to create improvement plans for each of the schools in the next 10 days. “Our leadership teams are working around the clock” to create the plans, Interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather said in a statement.
Here are the full statements from the school board and Meriweather.
DPSCD Board of Education Statement For the first time in nearly a decade, the City of Detroit has a true school board, made up of educators, executives, and community leaders, empowered to make decisions that will improve our schools and lead to better educational outcomes for Detroit’s children. Yet, just days into our term, the State School Reform Office (SRO) has listed 16 low performing DPSCD schools and eight EAA schools on a potential closure list, regardless of whether those children and families have a quality school in their neighborhood. The SRO advised Detroit parents that if their child’s school is closed, they should consider sending their child to communities as far as Holly and East China to find a quality school. Since 2009—when the state emergency managers took over Detroit schools—over 150 schools in Detroit have been shuttered. These closures have imposed serious hardship on Detroit schoolchildren. Study after study has indicated that when students are forced to switch schools unexpectedly, their academic performance suffers, their absenteeism rates increase, and the risk that they will drop out of high school skyrockets. Yet the SRO is considering closing still more schools—inflicting new educational injuries on a population of students that has already suffered. That is simply not right. The DSCD school board is committed to improving our schools not shutting them down. To that end, the board has directed DPSCD management to rapidly complete improvement plans for each of these schools. We have spoken with Governor Snyder’s staff and he has committed that thoughtful analysis will be done before any schools are closed. Meanwhile, we are authorizing DPSCD to take legal action when timely and appropriate to present why we believe these school closures cannot legally move forward. We are hopeful that we can work with the state to avoid any action, however, we reserve the right to do so. We look forward to presenting a plan for improvement to the SRO and the families of Detroit. Statement from Interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather On behalf of myself, our families, teachers and our administrators I want to thank the Board of Education for their leadership. We stand with their decision to work to keep our schools open. We have no doubt that closing schools without providing high-quality options would be devastating to our families. It would mean undue hardships in transportation, safety and access to critically needed wrap around services. We also understand that it is critically important that each of these 16 schools shows dramatic improvement. As I speak, our leadership teams are working around the clock to create data-driven improvement plans for each school. These plans will be presented within the 10 days. We are confident that each one of these neighborhood schools can be a high-quality option for our students. Finally, I want to thank the community – Mayor Duggan, our legislators, pastors, residents and friends for your outpouring of support. We sense that you are behind us and that you are locking arms with us to help us create better outcomes for our students. Thank you.