Detroit Charter Schools Need to be More Accountable

By: Wally Aldeen Alhomaidi

08/22/2019

Hello everyone, it’s me, Wally again. Some of you may know me from my last blog “Why Funding Matters.” As I stated before, even though charter schools are publicly funded and experience many of the same issues that schools in the Detroit Public School District face, in many instances, it's much harder to hold them accountable to the students, families, and communities they serve. 

That’s mostly because of how far away the board, management companies, and other leaders of the school feel. They aren’t accessible to us, and we only really get responses when we make a big fuss (and the responses are never good). Honestly, I’m not even sure if I know HOW to hold my school officials accountable. The traditional district, Detroit Public School Community District (DPSCD) has lots of ways to do so. Students have access to emails, numbers, hotlines, etc. to reach their board and superintendent. But at my school, we don’t know who the board members are because we have no way to talk to them. And even if we do actually get to talk to our school leaders, that doesn’t mean they’ll address any of our concerns. Sometimes, we bring ideas to our superintendent and she doesn’t even write them down--because she knows no one can hold her accountable to them!  

I live in a community that has an Arab/Muslim majority and most of them attend the same school as me. Most of our parents don’t speak or understand English and are limited when it comes to transportation. And I know that my last blog talked a lot about my school, but something I didn’t mention is the administration. They don’t care about how we feel. They don’t listen to our voices. Whenever we try to fix issues within our schools, we’re shoved with excuses down our throats. Officials always change the topic and place the blame back on the students. They tell us that we should be grateful for what we have and that if we work harder, we’d have better results. One time, when my sister complained about her teacher that didn’t teach, they switched the topic and blamed it on her sometimes not being able to come to school early because of her not having transportation. 

Just recently, the two salutatorians of this year’s graduating class spoke on this issue during their graduation speech. The superintendent replied by having their mics turned off. The video of their speech blew up after it was posted online by a former teacher. After the media picked up on the story-- making it more viral--Hamadeh Educational Service spokesman Mario Morrow said, “The student speech that was reported in negative media coverage, was merely the result of the work of those adults to accomplish their goals. We are so sad to see that some of our students were misled and used to serve agendas that have nothing to do with what really serves their interests.” This is just one example of how they try to make themselves the victims when in reality they are the problem. Everything the salutatorians said in their speech were the words of the students going to that school. They make it seem as if we’re not smart enough to think on our own. Instead of addressing our concerns, they completely denied our ability to have a voice. Why should we have to fear retaliation when speaking up? 

As a result of these two students using their first amendment right during the graduation ceremony, HES (Hamadeh Educational Services) decided to withhold the whole graduating class’ transcripts and diplomas as retaliation. The graduating students tried to meet with the principal of Universal Academy, Uzma Anjum, who told them no transcripts are to be released until the investigation is over. The investigation had no public end date. Since they couldn’t talk with the school, they had to go to the central office to ask about their transcripts and diplomas. They met the family engagement liaison and he told them that they would be welcomed if they came back at a later date, but when they came back, they were not able to go in or welcomed at all. The staff were hiding and the front desk worker ran once she saw them and never came back. The students were ignored while they were being recorded through the blinds. At one point, someone from inside called the police on the students. They were then told if they didn’t leave, they would be reported as trespassers. A group of students who need their transcripts so they could go to college are trespassers?

This isn’t the first time the school has done something like this. In the past, a group of five teachers saw the lack of resources in the school and wanted to make a change. They planned and attended one of the board meetings to bring light to the issues, thinking that the administration would want what’s best for students and help fix them. Instead, the administration reacted by firing four out of the five, in the middle of the school year. This just goes to show how little they care about us, students. And if this wasn’t enough to convince you, don’t worry I have more examples.

Before my sophomore year, I really loved chemistry-- I actually wanted to major in it. But unfortunately, that year, I had 4 different chemistry subs, instead of an actual, certified, teacher. The fourth one ended up staying the rest of the year as a long term substitute, which may seem uncommon. But, I recently found out in a Bridge magazine article that last year 30 out of 33 teachers in my school were long term substitutes. That means that 30 out of 33 classes in my school were being taught by uncertified teachers. I was shocked, but not surprised. You would think that it’s the other way around, where subs only fill in a teacher’s role when a teacher is absent. The problem wasn’t only that we had too many subs, it was the experience and qualifications of those subs. The chemistry teacher I had would literally stay in front of the class teaching the board, not even checking for understanding. When we asked him questions, he was either not able to explain, or not able to answer them at all. The majority of the class struggled to pass and others just gave up. We would all go home and watch youtube videos in order to learn, but not really understand anything. In chemistry there are multiple methods to “solve” chemical equations, but since the teacher only knew one way, he would take off points if we didn’t use the way he knows. I managed to pass the class with a 96%, but only because every single day I went home and taught myself everything. I would literally spend hours just watching videos. I think it’s unacceptable that it’s come to a point where students are learning more from the internet than from our teachers.

And if that isn’t bad enough, they even take ownership of our hard work! We work hard on our own to go to college and apply for scholarships, to teach ourselves and understand lessons. We get into college by ourselves, and it’s hard even when we get there. And they use our hard work to say that they got us to that point. Our superintendent even told a group of 14-year-old girls the other day that “if it weren’t for her, they would be married and pregnant back in Yemen.” And this is the way we’re treated, mostly because the school knows that no one can do much about it.

Now I know you might be wondering why I don’t just leave the school. There are lots of schools in Detroit, right? Why not just leave? Well...it isn’t that easy. Like I've said, the majority of the community is Arab/Muslim and Universal Academy is one of the only schools that allows us to practice our religion and supports our culture. The school knows that, and whenever we try to address actual problems there, they ignore us. They know that we won’t leave, because our parents and community appreciate the acceptance of our culture in the school. In fact, some of our parents fear when we speak up, because they don’t want us to lose access to that. I feel like I am being held culturally hostage in my own school. It isn’t fair, but it’s true. I’m honestly left with no other option but to deal with what’s going on until I graduate. 

As I’m writing this blog I am still afraid of what might happen to me if they retaliate again.

Our voices as students in that school are being shut off. We get punished for speaking up because of the school’s habit of retaliating. We shouldn’t have to be afraid to speak up. This is exactly why I organize. I want to create a community where our voices get heard. 

Until next time! -Wally

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