Why did Roy Roberts decide not to close southwest Detroit’s Maybury Elementary School? Was it really because he didn’t want to leave a vacant building in the middle of a neighborhood, or because the school serves a densely populated area?
Or was Roberts, appointed emergency manager of the Detroit public school system a year ago, responding to the momentum of organized activism by students, parents, teachers and community supporters at a growing number of schools?
Either way, Roberts’ announcement in the school’s gymnasium Thursday made a lot of people happy and inspired others. He told parents and teachers, who’d gathered to hear his decision, that Maybury would stay open for at least two more years.
Maybury Elementary’s student body is 80-percent Latino, according to school literacy coach Linda LaVere, who answered her office phone in Spanish. The school sits in the heart of Detroit’s busy southwest district, whose heart is known as Mexicantown.
In February, Roberts revealed a list of nine schools scheduled to close. Maybury Elementary was one of them. “Our parents became active very quickly,” LaVere said. “The parents and the community were overwhelmingly supportive of this school.”
LaVere spoke as she waited for a bus taking teachers and staff to watch a select group of Maybury violin students perform at Detroit’s Fox Theater. A bus full of students had just left. Icing on the cake.
Roberts’ decision followed a series of marches and demonstrations at Maybury that started shortly after he announced the closure list. Occupy Detroit and local members of BAMN (By Any Means Necessary) joined protests organized by a parent-led, community Coalition to Save Maybury.
It also followed a student walkout on April 25 at two Detroit high schools: Southwestern, and Western International. Southwestern is scheduled to close. Western International and the more distant Northwest High School will have to absorb its student body, according to a DPS letter to parents.
Western International students tell their own story
Despite school officials’ threats of punishment, more than 300 students from both schools walked out at 10:55 a.m. and marched through southwest Detroit’s Clark Park in protest, according to a Facebook page created by students who protested.
More than 150 of the Western students were suspended for five days, and one student faced criminal charges, according to the students’ page. Fewer than 30 were suspended from Southwestern.
The students said they were protesting to save schools from closure and to demand better facilities, better treatment by school staffs, and higher-quality educations.
One highly publicized concern over the merger of Southwestern and Western students in one school is increased gang violence.
“There’s a whole bunch of gangs at Western. There’s a whole bunch of gangs at Southwestern,” Western freshman Antonio Vamos told the Detroit Free Press. ”If they bring Southwestern into Western, all hell’s going to break loose.”
Students organized the walkout and rally. Local BAMN members participated, coordinated with other supporters, and marched with the students. So did teachers and, according to one report, the president of Detroit’s now-defunct school board. The board’s powers were transferred to Roberts when he took over the school system.
The late-April, Western-Southwestern walkout was the third in little over a month. It was preceded by a mid-March protest at northeast Detroit’s Denby High, where hundreds of students marched outside for hours to protest the school’s transfer to a newly formed, separate district for the state’s 15 lowest-performing schools.
After the Denby walkout, about 50 students were suspended for walking out in late March at the all-boys Frederick Douglass Academy, where seniors protested a shortage of teachers, the full-time use of substitutes unfamiliar with the subjects they are teaching, and the general poor quality of the education the school provides.
BAMN organizers are calling for a May 16 city-wide walkout to stop all school closings and fight conversion of public schools into so-called charter schools, which are run by private entities using public money.
So why did Roy Roberts take Maybury Elementary off death-watch?
Not because of a change of heart about moving Maybury students into other schools, says Tristan Taylor, a BAMN organizer and member of Occupy Detroit. ”His reasoning for keeping Maybury open holds true for every school on the closure list,” Taylor said. Instead, he said,”This is 100 percent because of the walkouts and the teens organizing at Western and Southwestern. It is a concession to organizing to keep schools open in Detroit.”
– by Janet Braunstein, email@example.com
Updated 5/12 to add details and clarify that protests were organized by parent-led community coalition.