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New board members, a teacher reinstatement, and more at Detroit’s January school board meeting

A teacher instructs students in an English class at Southeastern High School in Detroit in June 2019.

The Detroit school board elected officers during a meeting Tuesday, returning Angelique Peterson-Mayberry to the president’s role.

Anthony Lanzilote for Chalkbeat

A Detroit school district teacher who was fired last year after challenging the district’s in-person work requirement for employees is expected to make a return to the classroom. 

The Detroit school board voted 5-1 in April 2022 to fire Nicole Conaway, a science and math teacher in the Detroit Public Schools Community District for 16 years who fought to be able to teach from home due to a medical condition. Board member Sherry Gay-Dagnogo cast the lone dissenting vote. 

Conaway has been a vocal critic of the district for years, and has been actively involved in By Any Means Necessary, an activist group that has opposed face-to-face learning during the pandemic.

In November, the Michigan Teacher Tenure Commission called for a reversal of Conaway’s termination. And on Tuesday, Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said the district planned to abide by the tenure commission’s decision. 

“Ms. Conaway will be rehired, and we look forward to returning her to a high school assignment,” Vitti said.

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Earlier, during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting, Conaway and other members of By Any Means Necessary called for her reinstatement as well as the firing of Vitti.

Vitti responded that his recommendation to the board to fire Conaway fell in line with the opinion of a federal judge, who denied Conaway’s request for a preliminary injunction to bar the district from requiring her to teach in person at the district’s virtual school.

“I stand by the recommendation I made and all the information I used,” Vitti said.

Here’s a look at other key developments out of the meeting:

Board welcomes new members, elects officers

Tuesday’s meeting was the first for newly elected board member LaTrice McClendon and marked a return for former board member Iris Taylor. They won two of the four seats in November’s school board election

McClendon and Taylor were sworn in alongside reelected incumbents Angelique Peterson-Mayberry and Corletta Vaughn during an organizational meeting held before the regular board meeting. After the swearing-in ceremony, the board voted to choose officers. 

Peterson-Mayberry and board member Sonya Mays were unanimously approved to return as president and treasurer, respectively. Misha Stallworth West was elected vice president, while Taylor was elected secretary.

Peterson-Mayberry said she was “excited to return to the reform work” the board has embarked on over the last six years.

“I want to make sure that we prioritize building stronger relationships and promise to remain focused as a team and illuminate our work and leadership,” she said.

Frederick Douglass name change may be delayed

The name change discussion at Frederick Douglass Academy for Young Men may be put on hold until the school moves to a different building this fall, Vitti said. 

The Detroit school board was initially set to vote to begin the renaming process for Douglass at its monthly meeting in December but opted to delay a decision until the matter could be discussed by individual committees in the new year.

During Tuesday’s public comment period, current and former Douglass parents spoke up about the potential name change. Those who favor a name change say it is part of a transformation designed to turn Frederick Douglass, one of Detroit’s longstanding alternative high schools, into a STEAM-focused school, a learning approach that incorporates science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics. But opponents suggest that a change would erase the school’s recent history.

Keonda Buford, president of the school’s parent-teacher association, said during the meeting that parent leaders are willing to compromise by keeping the Frederick Douglass name on the building until students transfer to the former Northern High School building for the 2023-24 school year. 

Ethan Bakuli covers the Detroit Public Schools Community District. You can reach him at ebakuli@chalkbeat.org.

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