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Suspended for Civil Disobedience, Students Create Their Own 'Freedom School'

Common Dreams staff

(photo: Southwest Detroit Freedom School / Facebook)

Students at one of Detroit's public high schools who were suspended after an act of civil disobedience to protest school closures and inadequate learning conditions created their own "freedom school" on Friday.

“We need a voice in our school system,” said student protester Raychel Gafford. “That school system is supposed to work for us. It’s supposed to work with us. And it’s definitely not doing that.”

Freddie Burse, one of the leaders of the walkout, added, “We are also opposed to the growth of charter schools. The main one here is Caesar Chavez. The privatization of schools is the death of the school system.”

In addition to demanding that their own school, Western International High School, and Maybury Elementary stay open, the group lists "Don't violate students' rights," "We need to invest more into our education than what our test scores are gonna be" and "Protection of teachers & their union" among their 29 demands.

The students write that their "freedom school" shows their commitment to education. The classes during their suspension, to be taught by themselves and community educators, will cover such topics as the Civil Rights Movement, the history of Southwest Detroit and poetry.

The Detroit Public School system is currently run by an Emergency Manager Roy Roberts.

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Democracy Now!:  Detroit Students Start "Freedom School" After Being Suspended for Protest

A group of students suspended from a Detroit high school after staging a walkout to protest district policies have started a "freedom school" where they plan to continue learning about civil rights, art and other topics. More than 100 students were suspended from Western International High School after protesting district plans to close a different area school. Students have demanded a voice, saying they lack basic supplies and are receiving a low-quality education. Seventeen-year-old Raychel Gafford said students held the walkout to "draw the line and take a stand for our education."

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Southwest Detroit Freedom School Facebook page

On Friday, April 27, 2012 at 10:55 a.m., we students of Western International High School will be starting our first day of class at Southwest Detroit Freedom School at Clark Park, across from our beloved school which we were suspended from. After over 300 of us staged a student walkout on Wednesday April 25, 2012, over 150 of us were given 5-day suspensions. One of our fellow students, targeted as the “ring-leader” is being threatened with formal charges for helping organize the walkout. We were walking out in solidarity with our fellow students at Southwestern High School to save their school from closing. More importantly, we were also fighting for quality education for us at Western, and at ALL DPS schools. We do not understand why we are being punished with a loss of educational opportunity when that is exactly what we were fighting for. To further demonstrate our commitment to education, we will be attending our own school taught by ourselves and community educators for the duration of our suspension. We are still looking for more teachers and students.

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The Detroit News: Two suspended DPS students start 'Freedom School'

"We were kicked out for fighting for our own school and we're sticking to what we are fighting for," Gafford said Friday, standing in Clark Park with a few students and a small group of community members.


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A senior, Gafford said she is continuing the fight during her suspension because of how students were handled by DPS police, school security guards and staffers during and after the walkout.

Gafford said some students who walked out had their cell phones taken and searched. Some later found numbers erased, she said. Gafford said she was ticketed on Friday for "screaming and yelling" during the walkout.

A Detroit school board member, Elena Herrada, said Thursday that students' cellphones were taken from them and that security officers went through messages and numbers on the devices.

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Let Our Voices Be Heard Tumblr Page: Raychel Gafford Speech at Western Walkout 4/25

Hi my name is Raychel Gafford. I’m 17 years old and i am in the 11th grade. We are the students of Western International standing in solidarity with the students of southwestern. We are here not only in solidarity with southwestern but to draw the line and take a stand for our education.

We are walking out to fight for quality education and to protect our public school system. We are here demanding better education and that our voices be heard. Our school system should work WITH US not against us. I’m sick and tired of being pushed around. WHAT ABOUT YOU??

All I hear when I hear about DPS schools is closings, chartering, MONEY MONEY MONEY and LACK OF MONEY! To be honest, I don’t think our education should have a price tag. I thought schools are supposed to be about educating students so we can be the best members of the community and grow to be successful adults.

Schools are assets to the community. What’s going to happen when all our assets are privatized?? 80% of charter schools are for profit. THAT’S NOT WHAT OUR COMMUNITY NEEDS. Schools are not supposed to be ran as businesses, education is a long term investment. We should not be making money off of our students. We are children, WE ARE PEOPLE! NOT—DOLLAR SIGNS!

The solution is not to close public schools. It’s not a quick fix. It only does long term damage to our neighborhoods. (When schools close, our families, and our neighbors leave the community so that their kids can have access to quality schools and opportunities elsewhere.) We need to improve the public school system here, not shrink it down or sell if off to charters until it disappears completely.

Our community thrives off of public education. Without our proper education we are less prepared for life. We are the future! WE ARE THE NEXT GENERATION OF ADULTS! WE’RE HERE TELLING YOU THAT THERE IS A PROBLEM! We’re done choosing the lesser of two evils, or accepting solutions that are not good for our communities. This time we’re leading the way. We are demanding respect!


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