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By Chuck Rudd
An official for the Detroit public school district reports that a member of a civil rights organization was spotted by a principal forcing a special-needs student to take part in a recent school protest.
Stefana Romanov, principal of Detroit’s Southwestern High School, reported to district officials that she saw “a BAMN member physically forcing a hearing-impaired student out of the building to join the walkout,” according to Detroit Public School district spokesman Steve Wasko.
BAMN is a civil rights organization formed in Berkeley, Calif., in 1995. Their acronym stands for “By Any Means Necessary.”
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the FBI had previously considered BAMN to be potentially “involved in terrorist activities” after observing members at a protest at the University of Michigan in 2002.
Wasko also said that the school principal had informed the district that “a BAMN organizer … phoned all of her students encouraging the walkout.”
Students from Southwestern High School and nearby Western International High School walked out of class last Wednesday in protest of the planned closure for Southwestern, and other austerity measures, in Detroit’s decimated public school system.
The city has lost, literally, hundreds of thousands of residents in recent years, and its management is so unstable the state has contemplated taking it over.
The school district is feeling the same impacts as the city.
More than 150 students were suspended from Western International for the protest. They currently are serving five day suspensions and have created a social justice campaign that includes setting up a makeshift school campus.
Donna Stern, the national coordinator for BAMN, tells WND that BAMN “is working with students at schools throughout DPS to stop school closings.”
She says they support the student walkouts.
In order to stop school closings and privatization, Stern says, “BAMN believes that it will require youth-led, mass direct action such as marches, walkouts and occupations.”
Stern defends BAMN against charges of potential terrorism.
“Minutes of a police meeting show that our name came up once in a discussion of political organizations after 9-11.” But she said scrutiny “was immediately dropped since it is well known that we are not a terrorist organization.”
Wasko also tells WND that key figures from the Detroit public school board had a hand in the protest.
“There is indisputable evidence that the president of the board of education was in the main office at Frederick Douglass Academy,” said Wasko. He added that the official, former state legislator LaMar Lemmons, was “verbally abusing the interim principal moments before the student walkout there.”
Wasko said that Lemmons as well as labor organizers were seen in front of Western International as students were walking out.
Footage of the walkout and protest can be found on Youtube:
Reached for comment, Lemmons denied Wasko’s allegations.
“They are a total misrepresentation,” he said.
Lemmons added that he was present at the Western students’ walkout and supports them, “as a citizen.” He added that he did question a school principal and later apologized for coming off aggressively. Lemmons also called the school district’s recently appointed emergency manager, Roy Roberts, “a dictator.”
Michigan’s Republican Gov. Rick Snyder appointed Roberts as emergency manager to help deal with the district’s $327 million budget shortfall. Roberts and others have suggested that the gap stems from many factors.
The number of students enrolled in the Detroit public school district has fallen by almost 100,000 over the past decade, which decreases the amount of state funding that goes to the district. Detroit’s rough economic downturn has also contributed to the shortfall, according to experts.
But Lemmons calls Roberts’ stint a failure, saying that the emergency manager and others are “deliberately not rectifying the emergency.”
P>The poor state of Detroit’s schools and the budget deficits “are a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he added, “and helps them keep their jobs.”
Snyder’s office tells WND that the governor supports Roberts.
“Detroit Public Schools faces deep and historic challenges,” said press secretary Sara Wurfel.
“Mr. Roberts has made tremendous strides in attacking the district’s long-term deficits and helping get DPS on stronger financial and academic ground,” said Wurfel. “This is integral to the students, families and community. Student engagement is a great and essential thing, but must be done responsibly and in spirit of cooperation to make a positive difference that all can agree is needed.”
Responding to their suspensions, Western International students set up a makeshift school called the Southwest Detroit Free School which is being held across the street from the Western campus.
Some of the curriculum includes “The History of Southwest Detroit,” “The Civil Rights movement,” and “Bboy/Bgirls.”
The students were protesting planned school closings and a lack of school supplies.
“Teachers don’t want to teach,” said one student in a Youtube video.
“We were walking out in solidarity with our fellow students at Southwestern High School to save their school from closing,” read a statement on the impromptu school’s Facebook page. “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.”
The students are also upset at being suspended and have created a 29-point list of demands which include a moratorium on school closures, more educational resources, and an erasure of the suspension from their school records.
But evidence suggests that the students knew, walking out, of potential punishments.
A letter on the group’s Tumblr website read, “We knew that by doing the walkout there were going to be repercussions of [sic] our actions.”