Skip to content

Grand Rapids for Education Justice brings list of demands to the GRPS board meeting

March 3, 2020

Last night, Grand Rapids for Education Justice (GREJ) brought forth the three demands for the Grand Rapids Public Schools, which were laid out a month ago. The three demands are:

  • An increase in teacher salaries
  • An end to the two-tiered system in the GRPS, a system which disproportionate impacts students experiencing poverty and students of color
  • An end to all privatization of GRPS services

However, since public comment is the last thing on the agenda, people had to wait to address these demands.

The Board meeting began with a recognition of students who were winners in a Martin Luther King Jr. essay contest, sponsored by the law firm of Warner, Norcross & Judd, a law firm that practices business law and is involved in many conservative efforts across the state. Many of the students who participated in the essay contest were recognized and the top three student essays were read by the students who wrote them. The irony of what these students were saying is that it mirrored some of the same aspects of the 3 demands that GREJ had addressed during public comment. In fact, it seemed that these students had laid the ground work for what the GREJ was demanding, especially the demand to end the two-tiered education system within the GRPS.

When it was finally time for public comment, several GREJ members and supporters got up to speak. In fact, GREJ supporters were the only people who spoke during public comment. While GREJ members were speaking, those in the audience held up signs reflecting the three demands.

The first person addressed the issue of teacher salary, which the person said was ridiculously low. She also said that the GRPS needs to talk with teachers more directly about what their financial needs really are and what their true value is to this district.

Martha Cooper also addressed teacher salaries, but spent more time talking about the two-tiered system and how it impacts students and parents along racial lines and class lines. She ended her comments by pounding on the table, demonstrating her passion and anger at the lack of equity and justice within the GRPS.

Rich Fink brought up the equity audit that was part of the board of education’s agenda. Rich’s own research pointed out that the scores between the themed schools and the more traditional schools, with theme school students scoring higher. Black and latinx students and those living in poverty have much lower scores, thus emphasizing the inequity of the two-tiered system.

The next person who spoke was asking about the differences between public, charter and themed schools. In addition, she raised issues around privatization, which is one of the demands that GREJ brought forth last night.

Tony Jacobs then addressed the GREJ demands and said that he felt that the students who read their essays were amazing and he wanted to acknowledge their passion. As a parent of a student within the GRPS, he particularly wanted to address teacher salaries.  He told the story of how his daughter sat through an entire year had no gym class, with no teacher and students were forced to sit in the room and not received the physical education they deserved.

Jack Prince addressed the theme of equity, especially since the board of education addressed it numerous times in their agenda. He made the point that teachers need to get better pay, that students deserve equal treatment and should not be subjected to the two-tiered system. Jack really hit hard the issue of privatization. He mentioned that the school district has a long history of privatization, including the buses, custodians and school curriculum. He said that the privatization of public school services was inexcusable and that it contributed significantly to the two-tiered system.

Kyle Lim also addressed the two-tiered system with GRPS. He acknowledged the students essays that were read earlier as well. In fact, while he was listening to them he looked up the racial makeup of the schools these students represented in the essay contest and discovered that these students were primarily from theme schools. He pointed out that all three of the winners were white students and asked why students of color were not afforded the same opportunities as white students. Kyle also addressed the academy schools, the ones that provide training in tourism and other areas, which seem to only lead to low paying job opportunities.

Ann Collins Swisher, a former teacher within the GRPS, focused primarily on increased teacher salaries, which, she believed, would address the other two demands. She urged the board to fight like hell at the state level to get every dollar they could to pay teachers a better salary and to provide the necessary resources to get the best education possible for every student in the district.

Malik, a GVSU student, shared his story about growing up in a two-tiered education system on the east side of the state and how it limits student opportunities to explore new possibilities that a well grounded education can provide.

At the end of the night, none of the GRPS Board members addressed any of the three demands presented by GREJ. One board member did say, “they were listening,” even though it certainly didn’t seem like that was the case. Lastly, none of the local news agencies were in attendance, thus conveniently not having to report on the growing movement confronting the GRPS.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: