Student Walk-Outs at Public Schools on the RiseDemanding equality and basic educational rights

 

All over the United States students are walking out of schools to protest devastating budget cuts and neo-liberal economics like the insidious Race to the Top.  You would never know it by looking or listening to the corporate media.  Bought and paid for, they simply conceal more than they reveal.

From Los Angeles (See Robert Skeels, http://socialistworker.org/2010/03/26/charter-school-closing) to Detroit (See Detroit Teachers, http://detroitteacher2.wordpress.com/2010/03/27/northwestern-students-walk-out-to-defend-their-school/), from Oakland to Ohio students are beginning to mobilize and become active as they see their educational future and prospects for future jobs and any semblance to a mythological American dream deliquesce like a snow ball in hell.

Fairfield High School in Ohio: Students walk-out

Take Fairfield, Ohio for example, where on March 12th a group of students walked out of their Fairfield High School classes in protest of planned cuts to the schools ‘block schedule’.  The ‘block schedule’ is the number of periods that the Fairfield High School offers to their public students.  The block schedule would take students from four long periods per day to seven fragmented segments of schooling.  The result would be less teachers and thus less educational resources.

The board wants to change the block schedule in a switch they claim is projected to save more than $800,000 next year by cutting 20 teaching positions.  It will also deprive students of an education while doing nothing to cut bloated administrative pay.  Once again the excesses of Wall Street are born on the backs of the working class and their children in desperate need of an adequate public education while administrators and school CEO’s face little backlash.

Students at the Ohio high school had been talking about protesting the administration’s recommendation to go to a seven period bell schedule since the board meeting the week earlier when the administration proposed the $3.8 million in permanent cuts to educational programming and staff. (Fairfield students walk out About 100 protest $3.8M in proposed cuts that would alter schedules, reduce staff (Hilty, L. Journal News, http://www.journal-news.com/news/hamilton-news/fairfield-students-walk-out-596618.html).

At least two Facebook.com groups were formed by students to organize various student protests, each with around 500 members.  The message was very clear, non-violent and passionate:

“We do have ideas for forms of protest and letter-writing campaigns,” organizers wrote. We must not be violent or belligerent; we must be professional and passionate” (ibid)

According to Fairfield High School Principal Billy Smith, about 100 students walked out to the school courtyard at about 8:45 a.m. between first and second period on March 12th:

“I went out and I talked to the students that were outside on the plaza and explained to them we would like all of them to return. They had to make a choice.  It was a very small percentage who walked out and left campus” (ibid).

Smith said he knew about the Facebook pages before the walk-out and stated that he had warned students against any walk-out in the morning announcements.

According to the Ohio Department of Education, building enrollment at the school is about 2,400 students so the walkout represented only about four percent of students — but four percent is quite a bit and points to successful student mobilizations and the use of the computer as a means for movement building.

Most students immediately returned to class, according to Smith, with some of the students choosing to return at a later point in the day. Students who returned to class were not punished; however according to Smith, those who left face discipline according to the school policy for skipping class.  What that discipline will entail is uncertain at this time.

Principal Smith said on Thursday he met with students to discuss the possible implications of the schedule change if it was to be approved by the board and recounted that he also talked about positive ways to voice opinions. When interviewed by the Journal Smith noted:

“Some of the students are asking for it {the block schedule change} to be delayed and for it not to happen at all. If they had their druthers they would like to keep their same schedule” (ibid).

The issues he said students were most concerned with were whether they would graduate on time, how their schedule next year would differ from what they had planned and how they would handle more classes at a time.  However, this assessment seems limited, as students were also concerned with budget cuts and the massive fiscal slash and burn policies that lie in wait for them. 

It would be naïve to say at this point that more and more students are beginning to see that it is the retched economic policies of the last thirty years that has caused massive benefits to the one percent of the population through tax subsidies and tax cuts while working people are left with broken infrastructure, empty public coffers and devastated city budgets.  However the growing awareness became palpable more apparent when the Board of Education held its scheduled meeting and as expected, took a scalpel to public education and its workers.

Some Fairfield High School students find the issue is far much broader than cutting class schedules: a promising lesson in civics

March 18th, the night the school vote regarding the block schedule was to take place, Fairfield school board members were greeted by protesting students.  They were not alone, for inside Fairfield High School there was an overflow crowd for the board meeting.  Of course before board members voted to approve the district cuts, as planned, they feigned public interest and heard from the gathered citizens as required by law.  But the die had already been cast as students so presciently demonstrated at their first class walk out.

Fairfield High School student, Josh Goodman, got up and publicly told the school board what he felt about the cuts to schools and their workers:

“You know these teachers, they work very hard for us and     giving them, you know, three months left in the school year to say you know, hey you’re cut, hey sorry there’s no job for you, I don’t think that’s fair to them” (Marshall, A., Big Changes Coming For Fairfield Schools http://www.wcpo.com/news/local/story/Big-Changes-Coming-For-Fairfield-Schools/JWJ0gGuwh02mXqKAH5_QaQ.cspx).

Of course Goodman was met by the paternal rhetoric of Keith Davis, who supports the cuts:

“There are times you just can’t have everything you want. There are times that whether you like it or not you’re going to have to pass by on the luxuries and you’re even going to have to start cutting a little tighter into those things you call needs” (ibid).

Goodman got a good civic lesson in how neo-liberal economics works and what are considered by the ‘policy makers’ to be “luxuries” and what they consider to be “needs”.  Sustainable employment, decent and well paying jobs, basic public services and public funding for teachers and educational resources have now become “luxuries” in the lexicon of the neo-liberals, no longer ‘needs’ for a democratic society.  Let them eat cake.

The attack on public unions and their teachers is of course one of the targets of the “disaster politics” and the students and teachers are beginning to see it; so are their parents and the rest of the community.  While billions of dollars continue to go to corporate CEO’s in the form of grotesque bonuses, cities are told they must accept a financial kick in the face from policy makers to pay off the theft.

The budget cuts approved by the School Board will include everything from eliminating weekend custodial work to more than 60 employees losing their jobs. This includes dozens of teachers – “luxuries” the public is just going to have to bypass.
Not surprisingly, the Board’s approval was of course unanimous.  The same shameless and tired rhetoric was on display at the meeting, as it is city by city, even perhaps as you read this now.  Randy Oppenheimer of Fairfield Schools lamented, regarding the guillotining of teachers custodial jobs, staff and student resources and instructional time:

“All the easy cuts were gone long ago and you are cutting good programs now.  But those are the kind of difficult decisions that have to be made. We need to take $5 million out of the budget. And you don’t do that with small cuts (ibid).

He went on to note what he called “the reality of the times”:

“Nonprofit organizations, for profit companies, just about any organization that has a budget is dealing with, cutting budgets. It’s a reality of the times,” (ibid).
The hot topic that prompted student walkouts on March 12th, 2010, the elimination of block scheduling, was also approved.  As stated, this will result in a policy that will replace four long periods with seven periods per day; at the same time it will also eliminate 20 teaching jobs. The cuts will be implemented next school year unless the community mobilizes to stop the pernicious policies.  It is students that will be in the forefront of the massive struggles that we all face to both prevent more disaster to our cities while at the same time working to implement public policies that favor the interests of working people, not the interests of the leisure class.

Detroit students Walk-out

According to the Detroit Teacher’s website, on March 24th, shortly after the walkout by Ohio high school students, about 200 Northwestern High School students in Detroit walked out of school and marched to Detroit Public School headquarters to let Robert Bobb, the Emergency Financial Manager who fancies himself an autocrat, know how they feel about his proposal to close their school. The lead organizer was a senior, ROTC member, and was threatened with arrest and loss of college scholarships if he went through with the action. His willingness to take this risk is the example we must follow (Defending Public Education in Detroit Northwestern Students Walk out to Defend Their School http://detroitteacher2.wordpress.com/2010/03/27/northwestern-students-walk-out-to-defend-their-school/)

Donna Stern, a member of ‘By Any Means Necessary’ www.bamn.com. told me that the walk-outs at Northwestern High School were coordinated with BAMN and the students brave enough to lead it.

Evidently, students at the school were upset about the decision to close their school and two of the student leaders of the walk-out initially wanted to walk out each and every day in protest.  Working with BAMN, the students were convinced that a mass mobilization would better serve their interests in giving Bobb the message they wished him to have: do not close our schools!!

March 23, 2010 saw the first walk-out of about forty students.  Similar to the Fairfield High School students, the use of texting and Facebook allowed them to engage in spontaneous notification and mobilization with and of other students.  The students walked out of the school and picketed, though they carried no petitions or actual demands other than to stop school closures.  They chanted as they marched to not close the school.

The walkout became a two-day walk-out, both the 23rd and the 24th of March, with a few miles of marching on the 24th to the Staff Center located across from Robert Bobb’s office.  The students chanted in front of the Staff Center and then marched over to Robert Bobb’s office where they actually entered the building.  The Detroit Police, ever omnipresent, were on hand but no direct confrontation between demonstrators and police occurred.  However, according to BAMN there were quite a few police in attendance on the second day of the march and this is no surprise, as I have written in other news on Detroit Schools and Bobb’s use of the police as Pinkertons.

According to a spokesperson for BAMN, one of the student leaders, who I will name as Terrell, was threatened with suspension but nothing ever came of it.  The suspicion is that Robert Bobb had called the principal of Northwestern demanding the students in charge of the organizing be reprimanded and in the case of Terrell, suspended, but that the principal herself was actually sympathetic to the student demands and thus never carried out the autocrat, Bobb’s, demands.

Here are some video links regarding the walk-outs:

Links on YouTube:
Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLVxjLSd6tc
Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38pPX2lDqdw

Links on Sendspace (so anyone, including media, can download the videos):
Part 1: http://www.sendspace.com/file/lkfyml
Part 2: http://www.sendspace.com/file/in191x

Robert Bobb to close 45 schools in Detroit and open more than 70 charter schools: Can the forces of opposition stop him?

 

The reason for the student walk-outs and protests and the whole vicious educational policy can be seen in the tactics used by Robert Bobb, whom I have written extensively on here at www.dailycensored.com.  Up to his knees in manure, most of it his own making as a the bumbling face of the ruling class, the embattled Bobb seeks to close 45 public schools (one quarter of all Detroit schools) and open more than 70 charters to replace them.  All this is to be done in the name of Race to the Top and for Bobb’s paymasters, the billionaire Machiavellians like Eli Broad, Gates, and Wal-Mart (The Walton Family), all privatizers and teacher haters.

However the tactics are proving to be problematic in their propagandistic ability to deceive residents, teachers and students.

What Bobb is doing now, in contravention of his role as an Emergency Financial Manager, is to hold rigged public forums where he works to smooth talk participants into thinking they have decision making power within their government and schools.  Behind their backs he works with David Bing for mayoral control and cell-phones his silk backed buddies at their air-conditioned offices at whatever think tank or to whatever philanthropic-billionaire he is working with at the time.

Bobb claims he is in control of academic affairs for the hemorrhaging school system (a claim that is being taken to court, see my articles on Detroit at www.dailycensored.com) so at what are called ‘Special Meetings’, Bobb gives fifteen minutes to representatives of those schools on the cutting block to make their case as to why the execution should not be carried out.  Some time it’s teachers who speak out adamantly and with passion for their school to stay open, other times it is students and their parents who give the passionate pleas.  There even have been times when students have put on presentations to hopes of saving their access to public education, like engaging in dance or song.

Although Bobb likes to peg the opportunity to address him as public input, it is cruel Kabuki theatre: and it is to no avail.  The plan to close the schools has been concocted in smoke filled board rooms in far away states long before the schools were targeted; all this is keeping with one of the four assurances of the federal Race to the Top: that there be more charter schools, privatization and more public school closures.  Robert Bobb is simply the harbinger.

At the 15 minute public relations meetings Bobb holds for the beleaguered teachers, students and parents, a rule is enforced so that no members of the community are allowed to speak – only teachers, parents, and students.  Also, no more than two schools can be in attendance at the ‘auditoriums’ at one time, venues Bobb uses to promote his plutocratic dog and pony shows.  This assures that schools do not unite or mobilize together and is all part and parcel of the divide and conquer mentality that has become the lynch pin in the privatization of schools.

 

Enter the organizers: BAMN (www.bamn.com) works to educate and organize the Detroit community

 

Donna Stern, a member of the group “By Any Means Necessary” (www.bamn.com), a group I have written much on for this site, told me that BAMN sends five or so members of their group to the “public meetings” Bobb reigns over.  There they are busy gathering phone numbers, signatures and names to work towards a coordinated school walk-out to stop school closures and privatization that would include not just students walking out of high schools and junior high schools, but would also ask that parents with students in elementary school keep their kids home on any day student walk-outs are orchestrated.  This is being planned now.

According to Stern, the group is working with the community, students and parents to mobilize what the group hopes will be direct action to challenge the neo-liberal economic policies of Bobb and his corrupt cohorts.

When I asked Stern what activities BAMN has planned for the upcoming future she mentioned of course the April 10th rally in front of Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan’s office in Washington, D.C. BAMN has been spearheading this organizational drive in tandem with many other groups and you can see articles on how you can get involved, attend the rally, sponsor a student, or call in on Saturday for an all day call-in conference scheduled for April 3rd.  Please see my announcement regarding this at www.dailycensored,com.

Stern also told me that members of the organization are consistently working the phones to educate parents, community leaders and students and to ask students to engage in more student walk-outs.  BAMN has weekly meetings which Stern called ‘Caucus Meetings’ each Saturday and she said that usually between 30 and 78 people will attend.  The goal, of course, is to multiply this number by many more and bring out all members of the community who see how financial ruin has spelled havoc for city residents, from job losses, to schools to public services.

Stern said that flyers are being distributed at schools and a deeper and wider understanding of the crisis of neo-liberal economics is now being gained.  Stern mentioned that Detroit residents know they are under siege from everything from 50% unemployment to public school closures to massive budget deficits and home foreclosures.  While Detroit citizens see massive bail-outs for the banks and their CEO’s, they wonder why they too cannot have bail-outs to save their schools and their public teachers and classified staff.  They wonder where the federal dollars are to help staunch the huge fiscal bleeding and disappearing public services.

These types of wonderings will eventually help them see that the last thirty years of Reganomics and neo-liberal politics has shipped jobs overseas under NAFTA, hollowed out manufacturing here at home, implemented tax cuts for the rich while basic public services are cut, created enterprise zones for corporations who pay little or no taxes, and contracted out good paying union jobs to for-profit outsourcers or ‘chop shops’.

Donna Stern says the idea is to build a city wide coalition to challenge the prevarication and neo-liberal policies of the so-called leadership, mainly lap dogs of the billionaires who shape the federal educational policy under Duncan.  She also wishes to see a national coalition built that challenges government policy and privatization throughout the United States.

I am sure that Josh Goodman is up for the battle as are those who walked out of the Northwestern High School in Detroit.  In fact, I would be looking for students to engage in more walk-outs as they find their future managed by elites and their education ravaged by privatizers and the minions that do their bidding.  If this happens city by city, state by state, what the privatizers and fixers like Arne Duncan might find is that like within Detroit, there are many school districts that are simply “bad for business.”  Now wouldn’t that be nice.