Detroit board may sue state to keep schools open
The Detroit school board has threatened to sue to prevent the state from closing schools in the city that have been designated as failing.
As many as 24 of 119 of Detroit’s public schools could be shuttered within the next two years, according to state rankings released last month that target failing schools for closure. The closures could come as soon as this summer, with another 25 in 2018 if they remain among the state’s lowest performers for another year.
During a special board meeting of the Detroit Public Schools Community District, Wednesday in Detroit, the board balked at the threat of closures, citing the impact that shuttering low-performing schools and those in the EAA would have on students.
“Since 2009, when the state emergency managers took over Detroit schools, over 150 schools in Detroit have been shuttered,” board President Iris Taylor told the audience. “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.”
The Detroit board recently regained local control after being under emergency management since 2009.
State education officials released school rankings in January that put 38 Michigan schools in jeopardy of closing this summer. Those schools have ranked in the bottom 5 percent for 2014, 2015 and 2016.
The lowest-achieving 5 percent of the state’s schools are scrutinized as “priority schools” under state law, which are measured with such benchmarks as standardized test scores and graduation rates. Those schools have to work with the School Reform Office to raise their performance level or face potential closure after three years of being at the bottom of the rankings.
While parents have been warned the sites could close by June, the School Reform Office could rescind closure notices if it determines that shuttering the buildings would result in an “unreasonable hardship” for students because no better local options are available.
The state is expected to complete the review by late February or early March.
The Detroit board said Wednesday it is authorizing the district “to take legal action when timely and appropriate to present why we believe these school closures cannot legally move forward,” members said in a statement. “We are hopeful that we can work with the state to avoid any action, however we reserve the right to do so.”
Reached for comment, School Reform Office officials said: “The SRO is committed to providing better educational opportunities to students and is working with the identified districts on solutions. That is where the SRO’s focus will remain – on improving education.”
The Great Lakes Education Project has called on the state to shut the “worst of the worst” schools.
“The simple fact is these schools are failing our kids and their families deserve better,” said GLEP Executive Director Gary Naeyaert in a statement in January.
Meanwhile, the board said it will present a school improvement plan to the reform office.
“Our leadership teams are working around the clock to create data-driven improvement plans for each school,” said Interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather in a statement. “These plans will be presented within 10 days. We are confident that each of these neighborhood schools can be a high-quality option for our students.”
Meriweather said the improvement plan involves input from the individual schools as well as the community.
She and board members acknowledged issues exist in the district but hoped for time to address them.
“We’re going to fight to keep our schools open,” the superintendent told reporters.
The announcement sparked applause from many in the audience, which packed the meeting Wednesday night.
Zeynabou Afrika-Toure, who has three children in the district, said she was “very disheartened” about the looming closures and welcomed any efforts to halt them.
“Our children are going to suffer as well as the community,” she said. “Everyone has a stake in it. I just think it’s terrible our children are under siege.”