Detroit — Two of the 100 Detroit Public Schools students suspended for walking out of school to protest district-wide downsizing and demand better conditions started a “Freedom School” on Friday, across the street from their high school.
Raychel Gafford and Freddie Burse, students at Western International High School, were both suspended for five days after they and 98 other students walked out of school Wednesday and into nearby Clark Park in southwest Detroit.
The students say they were protesting the impending closure of nearby Southwestern High School and inequitable conditions at schools, including overcrowded classrooms, inadequate textbooks and supplies, and what they describe as “low expectations” from teachers.
Gafford said the Freedom School is for all suspended students and will offer courses on several subjects, including social justice, hip-hop music and poetry workshops taught by community members, including a pair of university professors.
“We were kicked out for fighting for our own school, and we’re sticking to what we are fighting for,” Gafford said Friday, standing in Clark Park with a few students and a small group of community members.
Gafford, a senior, said she is continuing the fight because of how students were handled by DPS police, school security guards and staffers during and after the walkout. She said cellphones were taken and searched, and some students later found numbers erased.
Elena Herrada, a Detroit school board member, said Thursday students’ cellphones were taken from them and security officers went through messages and numbers.
“It’s the whole DPS system. The way we were handled during the walkout,” said Gafford, who was ticketed for “screaming” during the walkout. “This is our education, and you aren’t giving us what we need.”
DPS spokesman Steve Wasko said claims of phones being searched and numbers erased are untrue.
“Students who stay focused on school are getting an outstanding education at Western,” he said in an email.
“To the claims about overcrowding and lack of supplies: Untrue. Students have ample supplies, books and technology and are using new Netbooks daily.”
John F. Royal, president of the Detroit and Michigan chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, sent a letter Friday to Western Principal Rodolfo Diaz, saying he was concerned about how the students were treated and how they’ve been disciplined.
“I feel obligated to raise the potential liabilities faced by DPS,” Royal said in his three-page letter, saying the students have constitutionally protected rights.
Royal asked the district to rescind the suspension and remove any reference to the discipline action from student records.
Wasko said no one is questioning the students’ free-speech rights.
“The discipline is for the most basic tenet of a student code of conduct, here or in any school district, that is, that students are expected to be in class during the school day. In fact, it’s a state law,” he said in an email.
“For a district that has worked hard to ensure students attend classes every day, all day, throughout the school year, to have adults encouraging students to skip school is irresponsible and pathetic,” Wasko said.
Herrada said Friday morning at least four uniformed DPS police officers stood outside Western, keeping students inside.
At Clark Park, Hare Krishna members taught students yoga, and then sat down to chant.
“The students have tremendous community support,” Herrada said. “This is what creates leadership — the crisis.”
Rick Sperling, founder of the Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, was at Clark Park with the students Friday to offer moral support. He said they were following in the footsteps of Detroit students from 1966 who walked out of Northern High.
“The students in 1966 created a Freedom School at a church and got professors to teach,” he said. “They have five kids here today. The question is can they create the momentum from ‘66, when 2,000 students walked out?”
Every dollar that you donate will be matched, therefore your contribution will be doubled dollar for dollar! By donating you will receive some amazing perks that reflect the hard work and brilliance of the DFY network’s participants. These include a ticket to attend a youth organized skating party, DFY stickers and t-shirts, DFY gift baskets with items representing each of the 12 organizations in our network, and the exclusive premier copy of our curriclum mixtape which serves as a comprehensive guide to youth led media organizing. Check out the side bar for more in depth descriptions of each perk item. Keep checking this page out for new perks we will reveal soon… And in case you didn’t know: The youth organizing campaign project for a strong youth presence at the 2012 AMC is completely youth led and youth driven. From the campaign strategy to the video development, youth are the entire brains behind this project!"
oooh, look at all those sweet prizes u can get!!!!!!
SUPPORT YOUTH FUNDRAISING AND MEDIA MAKING!!!!
Today is the day we have been waiting for! Detroit Future Youth has just launched its Indiegogo campaign page. We have been working hard all month to put together this campaign and we need YOUR HELP! Help us in anyway you can by donating as much as you can. Visit our campaign page at the link provided: http://www.indiegogo.com/detroitfutureyouth?a=576330