Detroit, Education — June 5, 2013 at 7:13 am

Students and teacher at Catherine Ferguson Academy sue charter that runs it & Detroit Public Schools


Give ’em hell, ladies!

Just a week after dogs ravaged and killed goats and chickens at the Catherine Ferguson Academy, the school for pregnant Detroit girls is back in the news. This time the spunky girls who have shown tenacity that rivals any other single group in Detroit are suing the Detroit Public Schools and the charter school that runs it, Blanche Kelso Bruce Academy, for delivering a substandard education. The complaint was filed by The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN).

The complaint (which you can read HERE (pdf)) makes some startling allegations including that the school is in violation of the Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act 453 of 1976 and the right to due process under the 14th Amendment. Here are some of the highlowlights:

  • The CFA students are being discriminated against because they are being provided with an education that is grossly inferior to that of other students in the Detroit Public Schools as well as within the Blanche Kelso Bruce Academy School District.
  • The defendants have terminated many state mandated courses, done away with all classes, ordered teachers not to teach classes, failed to employ certified teachers in math, physical education computing, health education and music and stamped an additional badge of inferiority on these girls through unjustly casting their entire school as a strict discipline academy for students with serious criminal and discipline problems, and have failed even to provide a student code of conduct, leaving all students subject to arbitrary discipline.
  • The defendants have thus irreparably harmed and are harming the educational opportunity these of young women CFA students.
  • In violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act 453 of 1976, the a right to due process of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. §1983 the CFA girls’ educational requirements are not being fulfilled. The students ask this court for injunctive relief, monetary damages, costs and attorney fees and other such relief as may be just and proper.

It goes in to describe the daily lives of these school girls in this way:

  • At the beginning of the semester, they are given a packet of work to complete by the end of the semester and if the work is not completed correctly, they receive no credit.
  • The students enter the school, go to class and sit in the same class room, with the same students and teacher all day, working on their packet or a project.
  • Teachers are banned from teaching classes.
  • Teachers are not allowed to teach the requirements of the state-mandated Michigan Merit Curriculum and High School Content Expectations for each and any of the students’ courses.
  • There is no serious or meaningful way for teachers to keep the students on a schedule to progress through the course objectives.
  • There is no virtually no opportunity for class instruction, discussion or activities.
  • Students have individual fifteen-minute to a half-hour meetings once a week with their former teachers, now known as “advisors,” in which they discuss the student’s individual project work.
  • If students have questions in between these brief and infrequent meetings, because there is no class, they are forced to search the internet to receive assistance with their work.

There are no certified teachers in foreign language, physical education or computer science at the Catherine Ferguson Academy. In addition, according to the suit, “CFA students were told that none of their math work for the school year would be given credit because BKBA laid off the two certified math teachers. Since then, an uncertified math teacher has been assigned to ‘teach’ math and has received all students’ work and graded it.”

The complaint also alleges that “all parenting and life-skill classes, which students were previously given credit for, were eliminated” and that the girls are being “inherently discriminatory and stigmatizing” by a new requirement that they be referred to the school by a juvenile court, a process normally required for juvenile delinquents, truants, etc.

Finally, the complaint also alleges that the defendants discriminated against teacher, one of the plaintiffs, teacher Nicole Conaway, by excluding her from staff meetings and that she is being given “unlawful directives”.

Michigan Radio interviewed a student at the Academy:

But some students, like 17-year-old Tatyana Baker, say without formal classes, they’re barely being educated at all.

“We sit in one classroom all day,” Baker says. “We are told that we have to teach ourselves.”

“We are not allowed to call our teachers “teachers”…they’re advisors. If you need biology class, you get a 15 minute seminar, maybe once a week.”

The women that attend the Catherine Ferguson Academy are not to be trifled with. They have shown in the past that they are willing to stand up for what they believe in, a fact proven out that the Academy still exists after the Detroit Public Schools tried to shut it down. To find out that these fighters are being denied a decent education is disheartening and sad. I join many others in cheering them on and wishing them all the best.