Detroit — More than 35 complaints have been filed with the U.S. Department of Education against Detroit Public Schools, accusing the district of a range of failures, from not meeting the educational needs of bilingual students to pulling effective principals out of buildings.
Parents and community members began filing the complaints in May and June and have continued in recent weeks, demanding that federal officials investigate their complaints and pressing DPS officials to address their concerns.
The issues they raise deal with the lack of Spanish-speaking teachers and principals at schools in southwest Detroit and the transformation of the district as it downsizes under a state-appointed emergency manager by closing schools in response to declining enrollment.
According to data on DPS’ website, there were 766 students at Earhart Elementary-Middle School last year, including 544 Hispanic pupils. Of those, 511 were considered “limited English proficient,” while 594 were economically disadvantaged.
Hilary Young, a parent with children at DPS and a community organizer in southwest Detroit,said the school had no bilingual teachers or bilingual principals.
Young said DPS officials have ignored parents’ complaints for years, and she has little faith anything will improve under a newly proposed Parent Advisory Council, which will have elected officers at each school building.
“We are not being heard now. We can’t get a call back from (Superintendent) Karen Ridgeway,” said Young, who is working with the district on details for the new council. “You aren’t showing us action, and I’m pushing people to file more complaints.”
Young is part of a grass-roots level group called Educational Justice for Detroit, which is gathering steam and asking other frustrated DPS parents to file Title VI complaints under the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.
These Detroit residents are joining parents and residents in Chicago, New York, Boston, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and other cities who have also filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Education, alleging that school reform efforts have disproportionally affected African-American and Hispanic students, violating their civil rights.
State Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, is among those who filed a complaint against DPS with federal education authorities, saying the district’s decisions are denying students with limited English proficiency a “meaningful opportunity” to receive a public education.
Tlaib represents southwest Detroit, which includes members of more than 20 ethnic groups, and where 40 percent of the residents are children.
She said the closure of several ethnically diverse DPS schools in her district is causing the district to violate or be in jeopardy of violating the federal civil rights of students, including the Equal Educational Opportunities Act and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
It’s not just bilingual students, she said, it’s special education students who are also protected under federal law.
After DPS closed its Day School for the Deaf last month, one parent with a hearing-impaired daughter has told Tlaib she doesn’t know where to send her child this fall.
“In Michigan, you see hundreds and thousands of students being denied access to education because of the closures. It’s almost the end of July, and my parents have no idea of where to send their children. To have these children be denied an education is an injustice,” Tlaib said.