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New Sanctuary Schools Toolkit provides school districts with an opportunity to practice solidarity with immigrant families

November 11, 2019

At the beginning of 2019 school year, the Detroit Public Schools formally adopted a school sanctuary policy. The policy essentially means that Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) cannot come into Detroit Public Schools  to look for or to apprehend undocumented immigrants who may be parents or employees of the school district.

The formal Detroit Public School Sanctuary states in part:

School personnel must not allow any third party, including, but not limited to, officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Customs Border Protection (CBP), or federal immigration enforcement agencies or similar agencies access to a school site or District facility without a request submitted to the building site administrator and approved by the Office of the Superintendent and General Counsel.

Following this example, the group GR Rapid Response to ICE, has created a toolkit for those wanting to adopt similar policies in school districts in the Greater Grand Rapids area. 

The toolkit is designed for parents and other stakeholders in the community who want to take the initiative to get the school district where their children attend or where they live, to adopt a sanctuary school policy to: 1) take concrete action to support immigrant families who live in constant fear of government entities like ICE wanting to do them harm, and 2) to send a message ICE officials and other law enforcement agencies who collaborate with ICE in order to do harm to immigrant families.

The GR Rapid Response to ICE toolkit consists of ideas for parents and other community members, legal information, examples of what other school districts have done, what it means to be a sanctuary school and what else people can do when they encounter ICE agents in their community.

The toolkit is currently only in English, but there are plans to translate it into Spanish as well. You can access the toolkit here, but if you have questions for GR Rapid Response to ICE, message them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/RapidResponseGR/. Also, please let GR Rapid Response to ICE know if you have begun a campaign in your school district.

Grand Rapids for Education Justice responds to the Grand Rapids School Board with video

November 11, 2019

Last week, we reported on the Grand Rapids School Board meeting held on Monday, November 4. 

The group, Grand Rapids for Education Justice (GREJ) had presented a series of issues back in October and wanted a response from the board within a month, which was last Monday’s school board meeting.

Several members of GREJ presented at last week’s school board meeting and you can read those comments at this link. However, the Grand Rapids School Board did not provide a response to the issues that GREJ had raised in October, neither in the agenda or in their comments at the end of the school board meeting. Several school board members did have something to say to the GREJ, even though those comments did not address the concerns raised, as you can see at the end of the taped school board meeting for November 4.

In a formal response to the Grand Rapids School Board’s failure to address the concerns brought by GREJ in October and in response to the comments from some school board members, GREJ provided this video response.

Betsy DeVos Watch: A Detroit educator responds to the Secretary of Education’s awful comment about Detroit Public Schools

November 7, 2019

Last week, Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, gave a speech on the 2019 National Assessment of Education results. 

In that speech, DeVos referenced several school systems across the US. However, her most damning comments were directed at the public schools in Detroit.

What is worth noting is that Betsy DeVos, along with the rest of the DeVos family has contributed millions of dollars to Republican legislators, many of which have been attacking the Detroit Public Schools for decades and in 2016 were calling for the Detroit Public Schools to dissolve.

This is all well documented in a 2016 Michigan Campaign Finance Network article, Big Donors Have Been Big Players In Fight Over Detroit Public Schools Turnaround. 

In fact, the organization that Betsy DeVos created in 2001 to push her privatized education agenda, the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP), was also calling for the Detroit Public Schools to dissolve. You can see from the graphic below that GLEP has also contributed significantly to (mostly) GOP legislators who are supporting what GLEP is calling for.

DeVos’s rhetoric on this issue is important, so we asked a Detroit educator, Kaitlin Popielarz, to weigh in on this issue. What follows is a clear deconstruction of what Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, had to say about Detroit Public Schools in her speech from October 30th.

Betsy DeVos: And then there’s Detroit.

The city’s academic struggles are infamous. Faced with the Motor City’s bankruptcy and consistently poor student achievement, the state government has been obliged to intervene and take control not once, but twice.

Kaitlin: In Detroit, we know that the state-takeover in 1999 and 2008 was due to austerity policies enacted by Governors Engler, Granholm, and Snyder, and backed by DeVos through venture philanthropy, paid-for legislation, and the corporatization of the public good. Detroit Public Schools were successful for decades before forced state intervention. In Detroit, we know that emergency management of Detroit through forced state takeover has only wreaked havoc on the stability of Detroit public schools and communities. DeVos has worked for decades to dismantle Detroit public schools and Detroit’s teachers unions to no avail. Detroit continues to resist through grassroots community mobilization and organization. Significantly, Detroit students continue to excel and achieve within academics, the arts, STEM, athletics, and service. Many young people in Detroit are also involved in grassroots organizations, such as Detroit Area Youth Uniting Michigan (DAYUM), in order to work toward intersectional social justice within education. 

Betsy DeVos: Still today, more than 90 percent of Detroit’s community schools’ eighth graders cannot read at grade level.

Kaitlin: In Detroit, we know that NAEP scores, along with other state and nation-wide high stakes standardized test results, are often conflated and misunderstood. Education “reformers” like DeVos utilize the NAEP scores to advocate for harmful education reform efforts that privatize and charterize public education and the public good. In Detroit and across the country, educators have critiqued the use of NAEP scores, in addition to other state and nation-wide high stakes standardized testing practices, which push harmful policies and reforms upon predominantly low-income Students of Color:

http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb18/vol75/num05/The-Problem-with-£Proficient£.aspx

 https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2016/06/13/the-naep-proficiency-myth/ 

 https://morganpolikoff.com/2015/10/06/friends-dont-let-friends-misuse-naep-data/ 

Betsy DeVos: Things have gotten so bad there that students and families are suing for a right to read.

American students should not have to sue their way to literacy—to learning.

Kaitlin: The right to literacy lawsuit largely names and challenges many of the education “reforms” that DeVos has implemented for decades in Detroit and in Michigan. The right to literacy lawsuit is a direct critique of the education “reforms” that DeVos advocates and implements, which only further exacerbates systemic racial and socioeconomic segregation within public education. For more information on the literacy lawsuit and what it’s actually fighting for, please see these links: 

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/how-lawsuit-over-detroit-schools-could-have-earth-shattering-impact-n1072721

https://sites.google.com/view/detroitequity/resources/right-to-literacy

https://www.detroit-accesstoliteracy.org 

These are the kinds of well thought out, reasoned and well sourced responses we need when responding to the propaganda of the Neo-Liberal Education Model that DeVos and others are using on a daily basis.

Now that the elections over in Grand Rapids, maybe we can focus on trying to make structural changes for collective liberation in this community

November 7, 2019

It is the day after election results have come in and for Grand Rapids, one could argue that those who voted, voted for progressive candidates. Mayor Bliss was re-elected in a race that included an anti-abortion, christian minister, who practices misogyny and believes that women don’t get to control their own bodies.

In the 2nd ward race, voters chose Milinda Ysasi over Wendy Falb. Ysasi is the first Latina to be elected as a city commissioner in Grand Rapids. Falb had the backing of the GR Police Union to the tune of $10,000.

In the 1st ward race incumbent commissioner Jon O’Connor barely edged Allison Lutz. Lutz ran on a more progressive platform around challenging gentrification, advocating for housing justice and supporting immigrant justice. O’Connor was also backed by the GR Police union ($5,000) and the Realtors PAC MI ($2,000).

Of course, we know that in order to get truly progressive policies, or what I would prefer to call radical policies, there needs to be substantive social movements to push a more radical agenda. It’s great that an anti-abortionist minister didn’t become the mayor of Grand Rapids, but we always run the risk of not pressing those who did win to introduce and push a radical agenda. We cannot be content with just getting progressive candidates, if it doesn’t translate into radical policies, which are really policies that benefit those who outside of the existing power structures in Grand Rapids – communities of color, people who identify as LGBTQ, working class people, immigrants, religious minorities, etc.

You can believe that those who are part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure know the outcome of the recent elections and are poised to push their agenda, which will not benefit the majority of people in this community. For instance, yesterday, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce posted the following message on Facebook: 

Congrats to Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, Commissioners Jon O’Connor and Moody, and Commissioner-elect Ysasi for their victories yesterday! We look forward to working with you to support a thriving and prosperous Grand Rapids for all.

Now this sentiment from the Chamber is just a straight up lie. They don’t want prosperity for all, since they have a long history of opposing an increase in minimum wage policies or a real living wage policy. The Chamber of Commerce also has a history of denying climate change, opposing any regulation of the economy and spending millions on lobbying elected officials and buying candidates at all levels of government. 

Those who are part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure are not resting after the outcome of the recent election, rather they are already planning on how to strategically use Grand Rapids politicians to support their agenda. This is why we need robust social movements to push radical policies that promote collective liberation. I have been part of numerous social movements over the past four decades and what follows is a proposed agenda that I have learned from over the years from those involved in community organizing and social movement work.

What Do We Want?

Racial Justice

  • A massive investment in black communities, with the investment being determined by the black community and not outside interests.
  • An educational system that serves the real needs of black, Latino/a, indigenous and all other communities of color.
  • Policies that do not punish the immigrant communities, but make them full members of this community at all levels – politically, economically, socially and culturally.
  • Reparations for decades of structural racism against the black community, which has resulted in massive profits for White capitalists.
  • End mass incarceration in this community, which has disproportionately impacted black and brown communities.
  • A recognition that the land where Grand Rapids sits was indigenous and that Grand Rapids is based upon Settler Colonialism.

Public Safety

  • The massive budget for the GRPD needs to be significantly reduced and reallocated to neighborhoods to allow them to determine how they want to practice community/public safety.
  • End police targeting of black and brown communities, which includes monitoring, patrolling, arrests and detention.
  • End all city collaboration with Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE)

Economic Justice

  • The city should practice participatory budgeting, so that all people who live in the city have a real say in how their tax money will be used. Having the city put forth a budget and then allow the public to weigh in during a small window of time is unacceptable. 
  • End massive subsidies for development corporations and their development proposals and redirect those funds for people to buy homes or to subsidize rent.
  • End the gentrification of Grand Rapids. No development if it results in displacement or pricing people out of a neighborhood.
  • A massive housing justice campaign, where there is truly affordable housing for families and individuals, plus the creation of a community land trust.
  • Limit the amount of properties that landlords and property management companies control.
  • Promote worker run cooperatives and housing cooperatives.
  • Make it a goal to end poverty and hunger in Grand Rapids, with a radical redistribution of wealth

If we believe that everyone has a basic right to a place to live, healthy food, education, health care and to earn a livable wage, then we have to stop saying that we just need to create more opportunities for people who are struggling. This strategy has never worked and it will not work now, especially since those with economic and political power do NOT want everyone to have all their basic needs met. We have to fight and struggle and engage in direct action if we want collective liberation.

Senator Stabenow isn’t a climate denier, but she is in denial about her role in perpetuating the Climate Crisis

November 5, 2019

Last month, US Senator Debbie Stabenow released a report entitled, The Climate Crisis and Michigan

While Debbie Stabenow is no climate denier, her recent report reflects a sentiment that the Michigan business community is poised to lead the way to sustainability.

In fact, much of the report is dedicated to how Michigan’s economy is impacted by climate change and how the business community can save us. On page 7, Stabenow notes that transportation in the US is responsible for 29% of greenhouse gas emissions. However, the Senator from Michigan goes on to say that the auto capital of the world “is transforming our transportation fleet.” This is a joke, the auto industry is NOT committed to transforming transportation. Transforming transportation would require that Michigan create a highly efficient mass transit system, which the auto companies will never do.

In the area of renewable energy, Stabenow says that the utility companies have ambitious goals for long-term carbon-reduction. This is also not true and what plans they do have are no where near enough to avoid disaster.

More importantly, under the section on energy, there is NOT ONE WORD about the Enbridge Corporation and Line 5. There is no commitment to ending Line 5, despite the fact that large portions of the population in Michigan don’t want it, including the indigenous communities, which have been leading the fight to shut down Line 5. How can you publish a report on climate change in Michigan and not talk about Enbridge or Line 5?

On the matter of agriculture and climate change, again Stabenow recognizes that the way we grow food contributes significantly to climate change. However, her solution is to allow commercial farmers to engage in “voluntary sustainability practices.” There is no mention that Michigan-based agriculture is primarily a mono-crop system of food production, which is not only problematic for climate, but it perpetuates the need for pesticides. Stabenow also doesn’t advocate for eating within our bioregion. A great deal of what is grown in Michigan travels long distances before it is consumed. We know that the average food items travels 1,000 miles before it is purchased, which means that food-based transportation is completely dependent on fossil fuels.

Essentially what the report on the Climate Crisis in Michigan, a report produced by Stabenow’s staff, does is to reassure the business community that their collective voluntary efforts will not be interfered with and that Michigan’s economy is what is important, without actually having to make any serious changes about capitalism. This report is essentially saying that with some mild adjusts, capitalism will be able to save us.

In addition, it should be mentioned that Senator Stabenow will not endorse the Green New Deal. In a recent MLive article it states: 

Senator Stabenow stated there are good ideas in “The Green New Deal,” a nonbinding resolution introduced in the U.S. House that commits to climate actions supported by progressive Democrats, but she is more focused on specific policies and legislation.

Lastly, Senator Stabenow has consistently voted to approve the US military budget every year since she has been in the Senate. Supporting a bloated US military budget is incompatible with drastically reducing carbon emission, especially since the US military is one of the largest consumers of fossil fuels

We should not be fooled by this recent report from Senator Stabenow on the Climate Crisis. While the Michigan Senator doesn’t deny the existence of Climate Change, she is clearly in denial about her role in perpetuating the climate crisis. This is also just one more example of why we shouldn’t rely on politicians, but put our faith in social movements to make substantive and lasting change.

Local social movements raise important issues at the GRPS School Board meeting

November 5, 2019

At last night’s Grand Rapids School Board meeting, there were several social movement groups that addressed issues specific to their struggles.

Before there was public comment, members of the Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation (GRSAF) spoke briefly, just to provide an update on how much money they have raised for the GRPS in 2019. They stated that over $900,000 was raised this year, but unfortunately there was no clear indication of where that money was coming from, even though we know that in recent years a large chunk of what is raised by the GRSAF has come from members of the DeVos family and other members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure

Gema Lowe, an organizer with Movimiento Cosecha GR and also a parent of a child in the Grand Rapids Public Schools, addressed the issue of Driver’s Licenses for All. State legislators have recently introduced legislation to allow members of the undocumented community to obtain a driver’s license. Gema spoke to how important it is for the GRPS board to adopt such a resolution and that it would be a big help in encouraging other school boards to adopt similar resolutions across the state. 

Some of the GRPS School Board members did respond to the Driver’s License issue, all in support of the campaign that has been led by Movimiento Cosecha. After additional conversation, the board voted unanimously to approve a resolution to support a Driver’s Licenses for All policy in Michigan, as is being proposed by recent state legislation.

The other group that addressed the GRPS boards members were those with the recently formed movement known as Grand Rapids for Education Justice (GREJ). One member of the group made it clear that members of GREJ, who brought their initial concerns before the board on October 7, has not heard back from the GRPS School Board, despite requesting a formal response within 30 days. This did not happen, despite the fact that members of the GREJ believe that their issues are urgent and were presented in a clear and diplomatic fashion.

Another member of GREJ spoke to the fact that despite their non-combative approach, when the news media spoke with GRPS director of communications, John Helmholt, he was dismissive of the group and said that their data was inaccurate and out of context. However, as GREJ pointed out, their data was based on Michigan’s Center for Educational Performance and Information website, as well as data provided from FOIA’d documents directly from the Grand Rapids Public Schools.

Other members of the GREJ highlighted the two-tiered system that the GRPS currently operates under, where students of color and students from low income families were not afforded the same opportunities, resources and commitment that students at City High or a few other theme schools have. One aspect of the two-tiered system, there is an issue of student safety, particularly at schools that are part of the lower tiered schools.

In addition, based on the comments from people who came to a recent GREJ community meeting, there were people from the Latino and Native American communities that raised issues around their efforts to get culturally relevant curriculum implemented in the GRPS, considering there are a substantial amount of Latino students and the fact that Native students have a right to this type of curriculum based on Title VI policies.

Another member of GREJ provided a response to the issue of what plan the group has or what solutions they would offer to deal with the two-tiered system. Some of those solutions were to:

  • Develop a committee that would include school staff, board members, teachers, students, parents and community members to look into how the current two-tiered system works and how to address it.
  • Make all curriculum and other educational resources currently used available for all to see, preferably online, so that greater transparency could be practiced.
  • The district should provide up to date data on incidents of violence and bullying at the schools, so that students, parents and community members have a better understanding on issues of safety at the schools.
  • Class size should be reduced and be worked out with teacher input.

One retired teacher with the GRPS and a member of the GREJ addressed the lack of response from the GRPS School Board. He also addressed the way that the school responded in the news media on the issues raised by GREJ on October 7, which was nothing short of combative. Because of the lack of response, the GREJ is going to continue to submit FOIA requests for issues like where the funding from the Students Advancement is coming from, copies of the curriculum being used in the new academies, which businesses/corporations are part of the established advisory council that exists in the GRPS, along with many other requests that will be brought forth in the near future.

Billionaire Dick DeVos complains that more public money isn’t funding his charter school

November 4, 2019

When you are a billionaire in this society, 99% of the time you get what you want. This has been the case for the DeVos family members, like Dick DeVos.

Last week, MLive provided a platform for Dick DeVos to have a public temper tantrum, since the he finds it unacceptable that more public money isn’t channeled to him and his friends and their precious charter schools.

The headline of the MLive article read, Dick DeVos calls governor’s veto of charter school funding increase ‘unacceptable’

Dick DeVos, who owns and operates the West Michigan Aviation Academy, crafted a press release calling Governor Whitmer’s decision to not include increased funding for Charter Schools in the education budget. DeVos was quoted in the MLive article are saying, “Our students deserve better and should not be used as political pawns.” Such a statement would have any honest reporter burst out in laughter, considering how Dick & Betsy DeVos have devoted the past three decades in Michigan into making students political pawns for their own gains.

Dick DeVos, Betsy DeVos and the rest of the DeVos family members have been working on changing education policy in the state of Michigan for nearly 30 years. Here are just some of the ways they have been undermining public education in Michigan:

  • According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, the DeVos family has contributed $25 million in the past two election cycles alone, and most of those candidates have supported charter schools and the re-directing of public money to charter schools.
  • Dick & Betsy DeVos led a ballot effort that would allow for school vouchers in 2000. That effort lost on a vote of 2,767, 320 (NO) to 1,235,533 (YES), meaning the public voted more than 2 to 1 to reject such a plan
  • Dick & Betsy DeVos created the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP) shortly after the defeat of the 2000 Pro-School Voucher ballot initiative. GLEP is essentially a pro-charter school front group that lobbies the Michigan legislature on education policy and has been crafting education policy for nearly 2 decades, policy that promotes a Neo-Liberal Education framework.
  • Great Lakes Education Project also supported a 2011 law that lifted Michigan’s cap on charter schools. Under the law, the number of authorized charter schools was raised to 300 through 2012 and 500 through 2014, after which the cap was lifted.
  • Despite two decades of charter-school growth, the state’s overall academic progress has failed to keep pace with other states: Michigan ranks near the bottom for fourth- and eighth-grade math and fourth-grade reading on a nationally representative test, nicknamed the “Nation’s Report Card.” Notably, the state’s charter schools scored worse on that test than their traditional public-school counterparts, according to an analysis of federal data. (According to an article from Politico, just before Betsy DeVos became the Secretary of education.)
  • The DeVos Family, through the Great Lakes Education Project, has been one of the main political contributors in the fight over Detroit Public Schools

It should be acknowledged that Dick DeVos was not the only voice, opposing Governor Whitmer’s decision on education funding. Other voices that were quoted in the MLive article were Dan Quisenberry – president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, Leah Nixon – director of communications for National Heritage Academies, and Rob Kimball – associate vice president for charter schools for Grand Valley State University.

Curiously, there was not one single voice defending the Governor’s decision, no one from the Governor’s office, no one from Michigan Public Schools and no one from the Michigan Education Association.