by W. Kim Heron
About eight students, several faculty members and supporters have taken over Catherine Ferguson Academy in a attempt to save the Detroit public school from closure.
Students began their occupation at the end of classes Friday, as the school was let out for a week-long April break.
Speaking by phone from inside the school library, science teacher Nicole Conaway said students and their supporters had agreed to stay in the building as long as possible, with the aim being to remain there for the coming week. Conaway said the occupation was the students’ idea. “We’ve done petitioning, we’ve done letter writing. This is the sit-in portion.”
CFA is the city’s only public school specifically designed for pregnant teens and teen mothers. It was slated for closure last year as part of DPS Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb’s plan to downsize the school system, but protests from students and community members kept it open.
About 200 students attend CFA, and the school’s urban farm has been featured in a documentary film, Grown in Detroit. Support programs for young women include childcare and parenting classes, as well as subjects covered in any high school. Students are adamant that the school remain open.
The city has proposed that CFA students return to their local public schools, but Conaway says, “half the students here would drop out if that happened.” She said the students have a list of four demands: “1) Defend public education; 2) keep all schools open; 3) maintain all academic extracurricular and school support — and restore those that have been lost; and 4) students must have the right to determine the character of their education.”
“This school was started 20 years ago when students said we need child care, we need support services. So students today are saying the same thing,” Conaway added. Bobb’s office did not return calls for comment.
(Read our 2004 cover story about CFA.)