DETROIT (WWJ) – Some Detroit teens who were suspended for taking part in a recent walkout at soon-to-be-closed high school are expected to be back in class Thursday.
As WWJ’s Vickie Thomas reports, the students have a host of demands, they don’t regret walking out and they vow to continue to fight for change.
DPS officials said up to 180 students were suspended from Western and Southwestern high schools following last Wednesday’s action.
Raychel Gafford, an eleventh grader at Western International High School, said it is all about taking their education into their own hands.
“We walked out in solidarity with Southwestern, but more importantly in demand for better education and to show that we’re tired of being pushed around and we’re now going to start standing up for what it is that we deserve in our educational system,” Gafford said.
About 100 students were suspended for five days following the walkout. Despite their suspension, a group of students held their own classes across the street from their school, underneath a gazebo at Clark Park, in what they refer to as “Freedom School.”
Freshman Freddie Burss said they started the school to show that a suspension wasn’t going to affect their devotion to the cause.
“The reason why we started this Freedom School is because we are dedicated to our education and that’s something that we wanted to show. Yeah, you can try to kick us away from it but we’re still going to do it,” said Burss.
Ron Mullins, a junior at the school, said he attended Freedom School but totally disagrees with the suspension.
“They never suspended me for skipping, you know, and for walking out and protesting for an actual good cause, they want to suspend us for five days? It’s nonsense,” he said.
Students say while their suspensions end Thursday, their protest will not.
“We have a list of 29 demands but our main things are we want a voice in our education, we want DPS schools to stop closing,” said Burss.
Detroit Public Schools spokesman Steve Wasko said the district is standing behind the suspensions.
“The question here is not about concerns being raised. The question is (about) the method used to be able to bring those to light,” Wasko said. “And certainly walking out of school in the middle of the school day is something that the district would take seriously at this or any other school.”
Wasko maintains that when students bring concerns to the district they are taken seriously. He said last week’s protest may have been orchestrated by adults — including some elected members of the school board.
The protest is the latest of several in recent months by Detroit students voicing their displeasure with the system.
Earlier in March, hundreds of students marched in front on Denby High School to protest the school’s transfer to a new state-run district. Then, just before April, about 50 students were suspended for leaving their classrooms at Frederick Douglass Academy to protest the school’s shortage of teachers.