Protesters blocked the beginning of in-person summer classes in the Detroit public school district for the second day in a row.
The schools opened their buildings to approximately 500 students on Monday, marking the first time since mid-March that students entered schools for face-to-face instruction. The purpose of the summer session is to help students catch up academically after the disruption of the spring semester due to COVID-19. But activists blocked the driveways of the Detroit Public Schools West Side Bus Terminal both Monday and Tuesday to keep school buses from making their rounds. As a result, 70 medically-fragile students who depend on the buses for transportation missed school.
According to the Detroit News, the demonstrators gathered to protest concerns about the coronavirus and a lack of safety measures.
But the protest was led by the social justice organization By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), which describes itself as a coalition to “defend Affirmative Action, integration and immigrant rights, and fight for equality by any means necessary.” The group derives its name from a phrase popularized by black nationalist leader Malcolm X and is widely understood to justify violence in pursuit of reform. Footage from the school protests show picketers with signs bearing slogans like “Black Lives Matter” and “Stop the Racist Attacks on Detroit Students and Schools.”
"We cannot allow Detroit students to be exploited as guinea pigs, subjected to a sick experiment to test the state's ability to open schools on a larger scale, the BAMN website states. "'Try it on the black and brown kids first' is the real program of politicians, who are seeking to reopen the economy completely, making blood money while sacrificing the lives of workers and children."
Shanta Driver, national chair for BAMN and a civil rights lawyer, told NBC News that Detroit’s decision to reopen schools was subjecting minority students to a public health experiment akin to the infamous Tuskegee study that began in the 1930s and left hundreds of African American men with untreated syphilis for decades.
“We don’t need another racist attack against Detroit or for Detroit to be used this summer as a Tuskegee experiment to determine whether or not schools can reopen in the fall,” she said.
It’s not the first time the COVID-19 pandemic has been used to promote a political agenda. A Los Angeles teachers union recently called for defunding the police, banning new charter schools, increased wealth taxes on California’s millionaires and billionaires, and Medicare-for-All as conditions reopening.
Meanwhile, students and their families are left in limbo as activists hijack the summer session--and the fall--for their own purposes.
Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of Detroit Public Schools Community District, told the Detroit News that his district is following all federal and state guidelines to safely reopen school buildings this week. He says it's time for students to get back to learning and for adults to stop making excuses.
“COVID is not going away,” he said in a tweet. “Many of our children need face to face, direct engagement. We should not make that requirement for all children and families. Parents should be able to choose face to face or online.”
COVID is not going away. Many of our children need face to face, direct engagement. We should not make that requirement for all children and families. Parents should be able to choose face to face or online.— Nikolai Vitti (@Dr_Vitti) July 13, 2020
Protesters have a right to protest anything the school district does. They do not have a right to prevent school buses and parents in cars from taking children to and from school. 70 medically fragile children and families who receive home pick up were denied F2F summer school.— Nikolai Vitti (@Dr_Vitti) July 14, 2020
Ben DeGrow, director of education policy at Michigan’s Mackinac Center, concurs.
“Schools need to find workable solutions for families that give students, particularly those in the most vulnerable communities, the opportunity to catch up on lost learning,” DeGrow told Townhall. “Concerns about the virus should be properly addressed, but must be balanced with supporting the academic needs of students.”
BAMN has not publicly announced whether it plans to picket the bus terminal on Wednesday.