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New education justice movement confronts the Grand Rapids Public School Board on what they identify as a two-tiered education system

October 8, 2019

Last night, parents, teachers and former educators within the Grand Rapids Public School system held a press conference on the steps of the headquarters of the GRPS.

Calling themselves Grand Rapids for Education Justice (GREJ), they addressed what they identified as a two-tiered education system within the Grand Rapids Public Schools district.

Here is a video that reflects the overall position of those who are part of this movement.

In addition, GREJ released several statements, which they also presented to the Grand Rapids Public Schools board members. A broader statement was also released, one that provides a brief articulation of what they mean by a two-tiered education system.

  • Grand Rapids for Education Justice (GREJ) is against the two-tier education system that exists with GRPS, where students from poor families and students of color disproportionately have access to fewer resources necessary for a proper education, as well as having second-rate facilities. GREJ also objects to the rise of the corporate education model which has led to the privatization of services at GRPS, such as busing services, custodial services, and curriculum, all with separate boards of oversight.
  • GREJ wants to see our teachers be fully respected and with a fair salary, access to their necessary resources, with appropriate classroom sizes and minimal use of substitute teachers as long-term surrogate teachers.
  • GREJ wants our students, parents, and other members of our great diverse community to be enabled to have a larger interactive role in the future of PUBLIC education.
  • GREJ opposes the significant influence of the business interests on the school curriculum, business interests who even have their own advisory council in our district. We oppose the charter school-like entities that exist within the GRPS system. We see as a threat the furthering of the corporate model as it is being pushed across the country by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

Before members of GREJ addressed the school board, it was instructive to hear one of the agenda items, where they listed several significant financial donations from members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, such as the DeVos, Cook and Meijer family. 

During the school board meeting, several members of GREJ spoke during public comment, providing statements that made clear the issues this movement has identified.

One of the statements read before the school board last night, ends with the following:

Two tier schools are cruel to disadvantaged students. Michigan schools are among the most segregated in the US according to the Detroit News and GRPS suffers from a double segregation with students sequestered by race income and opportunity. We need signs flashing in front of the lower tier buildings like the one shining incessantly in front of City illuminating the accolade of the second best High School in West Michigan. Imagine an accolade in front of our two tier buildings admitting we will not accept our insufficient reading abilities in this school any longer. We will not claim district success when 74% of our k through 8 readers flunk the state m step reading test. This two tier district will be exceptional when it abolishes it’s academic dichotomy. Lets all strive in this room for educational justice for all of our students.

Another statement read before the school board last night makes this point:

We have not come to place blame, but rather have come to ask you what you as a board are going to do to create an equal playing field for all Grand Rapids Public School students. Our group has FOIA’d considerable data and information from the district in order for us to further evaluate and then disseminate information to the public at large what we see as evidence of this Two Tiered System. Our research indicates that this term may have originated from a study conducted by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, May 13, 2004. The study was titled “50 Years After Brown vs. Board Of Education: A Two Tiered Education System”. The study found that low income students and students of color were too often concentrated in separate and unequal schools. It found that holding students accountable for high standards is unacceptable when districts are unwilling to provide adequate resources, technology, educators, support and facilities.

Each of those involved with GREJ spoke passionately, all with a direct experience as former teachers and parents of students within the GRPS system. One speaker closed with these comments:

Our students deserve a fair, equal, and rewarding educational opportunity. We implore the board to seriously consider what we have presented here tonight and come back to the public with a comprehensive plan that will begin to address and correct the inequity, disenfranchisement, and segregation of the district’s student population.

(You can read all 5 of the statements presented last night, by going to this link.) 

Of course, the protocol of the school board meetings is that there is no conversation nor immediate responses to those who addressed the board. This process doesn’t foster dialogue nor does it encourage people to want to actively engage this elected body. This is not what democracy is supposed to look like. When given the opportunity at the end of the School Board meeting, the acting Superintendent and the other Board members could have said something, but all chose to simply say, No Comment.

Grand Rapids for Education Justice members were not expecting anything but this kind of response. Those involved have been before this board before in different capacities, but the difference here is that they want to build a movement for education justice. To contact Grand Rapids for Education Justice you can send them an e-mail at informedteachers@gmail.com or follow them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/GrandRapidsForEducationJustice/.

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