Michigan Should Do Better by Students and Families Or Let Someone Do the Work to Support Families During These Closings

By Bernita Bradley

Another week, and another blow dealt to Michigan’s students and families as a list of 38 possible school closures was released by the School Reform Office (SRO). Recent legislation charges this state agency with releasing a list of persistently failing schools recommended for closure (although there’s some debate about when that should start here). And over the next 30 to 45 days, the SRO will decide which of the 38 schools will close as well as which won’t because no better options are available to families.

The SRO put out a list of schools--with no information for students, families, school staff or community members as to the next steps, how to define hardship, and didn’t offer transparency around how exactly hardships will be determined.

However, the SRO did speak of a vision for "every kid in Michigan to have access to a globally competitive education."

Access? Globally competitive education? And better options? That all sounds nice. And who would disagree? But a closure list with no community input and no resources for families upends the school community and undermines the ability of every kid to have access to this vision.

As someone with experience in applying to schools in and around Detroit the last 20 years I can say with certainty that 30 to 45 days from now, many higher performing schools will have completed their first application window and parents from closing schools will be on waiting lists.

It is sad that parents have to play such a waiting game. When will they know? It takes time for families to find another school. And even if a family finds a school they would like to attend, will there be seats available, will they be accepted?

All of this takes support, too. Parents need to visit schools, make sure they have all the appropriate documents to apply, meet all necessary deadlines and ensure they are enrolled and not on a waitlist by the end of the school year. While this may sound simple, many families in Detroit struggle to understand the overly complicated school system, and the many different school processes.

Without certainty about their school status, and without resources to access quality schools--practically and theoretically--we set our parents up to be in schools no better than now. Have we not learned from past school closings that our families deserve to be treated better than this?

I wonder how many families who saw the possible school closure list are right now planning to flee their current school. Many will run to schools that in the coming days that try to recruit students before the February count day, to boost their budgets. Families unsure of where their school will stand come June will move their children, not even knowing if the school is a right fit for them or their family--or if their current school is actually going to close.

If these schools are going to close, we need to know now so that families can make better choices. 

I think of Kenya Tubbs whose daughter attends one of the schools on the list. Kenya fought for years to make sure her daughter, who has a cognitive impairment, has a stable, loving, caring and suitable school that provides the service required by her IEP. Driving across town into a neighborhood where she doesn't live to assure her child is happy. And, she is.

Now, where does she go? How does long will it take for her to find the same supports, or for her daughter to adjust? Not Fair! Not Fair at all!

I know families who go to most of these schools on the list, and they will struggle to leave those schools and will scramble for a seat somewhere else. Or cross city borders to schools that may not even be a better choice.  

What is the plan for these families? What supports are in place for the ELL, overage youth, homeless and foster children? Who will ensure that they, along with the other estimated 9,000-plus students affected, are supported?

For the last year I have worked as the Outreach Manager for Enroll Detroit, a free service for families that offers enrollment support from birth to college. Since last May, our trained team worked with students and families at Phoenix Multicultural Academy, Experiencia, Allen Academy and University Yes Academy, when they were closed last year.  

From those experiences, we know there is a better way to announce such closures and account for the enrollment needs of the families who will be impacted by these decisions. Parents deserve more than generic press releases and announcements sent home in their children’s book bags letting them know whether their school will close this year.

Those in authority should get familiar with the impact of such decisions and the fallout they will have on families. Maybe they should have spoken to some of the thousands of students and families who over the last 25 years have been impacted by schools opening and closing overnight. If they are truly concerned about wanting “all kids to have a good life after high school” then perhaps they should do better by them now.  

To do better after high school, you first have to know if you will be able to attend high school. Right now, our students and families should be focused on doing well academically. Yet too many children and their parents are now sitting on the edge of their seats waiting to see what will become of the school, teachers and academic communities that has been identified as a failing school.

Detroit definitely has work to do on improving school quality for kids. When the School Reform Office announces a list of school closures with the intention of closing persistently failing schools, we acknowledge that some turnaround plans and closures may be necessary. However, when that office offers a list with no plan to transition families to higher performing schools, it’s the state that has failed.

Everyone involved and who will be affected by such decisions deserves more respect, transparency and accountability from those who are pulling the strings in our state’s capitol. It is the least they could do.

Signed "Doing the Work"   #Voices4Ed #Schoolclosures #Education