This letter from a DPS student explains what's wrong with Lansing's plan for her district

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In January we posted a moving letter from Imani Harris, a student at Detroit Public School's Renaissance High. Imani wrote about the insane conditions she was expected to learn in, as well as why she supported the district's teachers who were, at the time, taking part in sick-out demonstrations to bringing attention to the district's lack of resources, lack of public accountability and lack of fiscal solvency, despite years of state control. If you haven't read it yet, go read it first

Anyway, the thoughtful writer is at it again. This time Imani writes about the recent teacher "Lock-Outs," where educators rallied this week to protest news that they would not be paid past June 30 for work they had already done (many are on 26-week pay schedules that span the full-year). She touches on the people who criticized the teachers for demanding to be paid, such as DPS Emergency Manager Judge Steven Rhodes, who on Thursday released a scathing letter criticizing the teachers for the Lock Out (we should note, Rhodes' $18K a month salary was never in jeopardy). She also writes in detail about the recently passed House legislation, which many view as punitive and not much of a fix for the district. 

Let's hear what Imani has to say. 

My name is Imani Harris. I am a very concerned sophomore at Renaissance High School. I am writing this letter because I am appalled. I am appalled at the fact that there was ever a thought that already struggling teachers should work for free while our emergency manager, legislatures, etc. continue to be paid.

I am writing this letter because I am appalled. I am appalled at the fact that there was ever a thought that already struggling teachers should work for free while our emergency manager, legislatures, etc. continue to be paid. 

I am appalled that teachers had to resort to striking because they were not taken seriously with just their words. I am appalled that teachers were then shamed for standing out. Is it not their first amendment right to protest peacefully? 

I am appalled that adults that have never been to nor had children in a DPS school would dare tell teachers that they are wrong, while they sit at home and receive their paychecks. I am appalled that it took two days of me being at home for there to be some “solution”. 

I am dumbfounded at the fact that Bill 710 and 711 were rejected, and then changed to some sick version of what the Senate presented. I don’t quite get why the DEC was taken out of the bill, when all they want to do is help. I am lost as to what the issue with the DEC was, and why we got no clarity on it’s issue. **(Metro Times Note: See below for more information on the Detroit Education Commission that was nixed from the House plan). 

I am confused as to why we have been subjected to some “quick fix” for an issue that has been brewing for years.

I am disgusted at some of the things that are proposed in this “quick fix” approved by the House of Appropriations. Why would teachers have to reapply for their jobs in the new district? So you can fire those you don’t like? So we can lose more teachers? So less people will reapply just because it’s simpler to find another job? 

My next question is, why would we get rid of the unions? So their rights are completely eliminated? 

The topic I am most heated about has to be this uncertified teacher business. Who in their right mind would think that hiring an uncertified teacher would even REMOTELY fix the problem? You all argue that DPS test scores are too low, how would hiring an uncertified teacher increase those test scores you all love to cry about? 

This would NEVER happen at a school in Bloomfield Hills. Is it because we’re black? Or maybe because you think we’re poor? Oh no, I’’ve got it; it’s because we’re just poor black kids from Detroit who don’t have a future anyways. Why promise us anything when we probably won’t live past 18, right? Let’s give them some sick bill that we know they won’t read, so they’ll stop fussing and go back to school right? WRONG! I know my rights, and I know that the color of my skin does NOT give anyone the right to give me any different of an education than a white girl would get.

Everyone’s so worried about how I’m losing my education from 4 sickout days. No one’s taking into account the fact that I went almost a full semester without a real English teacher. Let’s count up those days, and see just how much education: I missed from those MONTHS, while the powers that be took their sweet time finding a teacher that was actually willing to step foot into DPS due to the instability and lack of value of teachers by this state run district. Let’s say I went roughly 3 and a half months without a teacher. That means that I had about 13 weeks with no teacher. Each school week has 5 days, so I went 65 days without a teacher. I missed 65 hours of 10th grade English! While we sit around worried about 4 measly days of sickouts, I think we should worry about the fact that I’m not the only student in this school system going through this. I am just ONE student. All students are dealing with this issue, and we are losing our education due to slow legislation.

In conclusion, the state of DPS is sickening. The fact that everything revolves around money and power is repulsive. The fact that someone I DON’T know, and clearly doesn’t care about me, holds my education in their hands is terrifying. 

I feel as if there is no hope. If the current house bills are voted into law I just don’t know what we would do. My future is doomed. All who read this letter please know that there are some students who know the issues, and want to help, but if our future is in the hands of politicians who care nothing about us, what can we do but sit and watch as our educations are thrown down the drain?

 “The best way to predict the future is to create it?” -Abraham Lincoln. 

If we want a change, we have to start acting. The House bills need to be rejected and we need to WORK to pass the Senate bills. 

The last thing I have to say is that we need to stand together. If you are fighting for the children, then you are fighting with everyone fighting for the children. Arguing among each other is what is holding us back. We are all in this with each other, and if that’s the case then we need to continue working together, and truly be united and not divided.

Sincerely,

Imani Harris

** Some background on the Detroit Education Commission (DEC), that Imani discusses in her letter. The DEC is something the Senate included in their plan for DPS, but that the House took out. It is a seven-person commission, appointed by the mayor, which would be in charge of overseeing openings and closing of schools. It is viewed by some as a necessary step to help stabilize the city's education landscape, as right now there are just too many schools (Read our article to learn more about why too much competition has hurt Detroit's schools, and read this article and this article to learn about how the lack of oversight around opening and closing has meant certain neighborhoods have tons of schools and others have, well, none).

While there is much support for the DEC, there are also camps — interestingly with widely different visions for the district — that have issue with it.

Charter lobbyists — who likely convinced the house to drop it — believe any regulations of charters is bad and have pushed hard to have the DEC nixed. While the Senate plan said the DEC's opening and closing decisions would be based off letter grades given to schools each year (80 percent based off test scores, and 20 percent based off other factors like enrollment), free-market, charter advocates are convinced there will be some sort of favoritism at play that would hurt charters. On the other side of the spectrum are DPS advocates — an assortment of teachers, professors, parents and citizens — who are for more oversight of the city's education landscape, but believe the current DEC model is flawed as it is an appointed board. They believe Detroiters' deserve local control, and that the DEC's responsibilities are something the elected school board could and should oversee.

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