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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.

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