Grave Situation in Detroit Public School
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) is increasingly concerned with the tense situation in and around the Chadsey High School in Detroit. In recent months, tensions between some Arab-American and African-American students have erupted into fights and melees, both inside and outside the school.
ADC has been deeply involved in trying to work with students, families other groups and school authorities to defuse the situation. In spite of our best efforts, and the strong level of cooperation between the groups, the situation has continued to deteriorate.
ADC is concerned that the situation has become extremely grave and that the potential for serious violence and injury is very real. A number of Arab-American families are now reluctant to send their children back to this school because of fears for their safety, concerns that ADC shares.
ADC is determined to continue to work with the groups, families and authorities to reduce the tensions. ADC commends the constructive attitude and cooperative spirit of the NAACP, the Nation of Islam, the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan, ACCESS, the Arab-American and Chaldean Council, the Detroit Police Department, the Department of Public Safety, the Detroit School Board and the Michigan Department of Civil Rights in addressing this dangerous situation, especially at a crucial meeting on April 15. ADC feels, however, that the Administration of Chadsey High School, including the principal, has not taken the steps necessary to defuse the tensions, and has not treated the issue as seriously as it must in order to prevent more serious developments.
The unfair and disproportionate punishment of Arab-American students involved in the problems by the school administration has contributed to the tensions. Principal Rowan demonstrated a lackadaisical attitude towards the tensions at a meeting on April 13, when she described serious violent incidents as instances of young men simply “playing tough guys.” She repeatedly described some of the Arab-American students in the school as “guests,” taken in by the goodness of her heart.
This situation took a grave turn for the worse when, on March 29, the beginning of spring break, a fight broke out on school grounds and for the first time spread into the surrounding streets. In an effort to defuse tensions, ADC organized a large meeting during spring break, on April 8, in which parents, students, concerned organizations, the Director of the Office of Civil Rights and the Executive Director of Labor Relations for the Detroit Public Schools, as well as an inspector and a lieutenant from the Detroit Police Department discussed the matter. Arab-American parents expressed serious concern for their children’s safety and were wary of sending them back after the break. Due to this meeting and the positive attitude of the concerned groups, and school and police authorities, tensions were somewhat eased. The parents decided to send their children back to school after spring break, only to find 11 of their children suspended. To make matters worse, neither parents nor students had been informed of the suspensions during the week-long holiday, until the students were turned away by school security on the first day back to school. This action by the school administration reversed much of the progress that had been made during the meeting, especially since only one African-American student was suspended while eleven Arab-American students, including female bystanders, received the same punishment. That the administration has failed to contain or ease the tensions was clearly indicated by Principal Rowan’s decision, on April 15, to call in the Detroit Police Department to ensure that no confrontation take place as students left the school at the end of the day.
ADC has always emphasized that the situation and its solution are solely the responsibility of the Detroit Public Schools. However, while awaiting a comprehensive plan of action from the authorities to remedy the situation at Chadsey High School, ADC has proposed a few concrete steps that could help to defuse this grave situation:
1. We have called for a school-wide assembly, to be organized in collaboration with the NAACP, so that the students and the various concerned groups can address the causes of the tensions.
2. We have suggested that, if the situation for some Arab-American students at this school has become too dangerous, then with the consent of their parents they should be moved to another school and provided with bilingual services at the other school.
3. We have urged that work to correct the current atmosphere must be done in full partnership with the school’s teachers, who have thus far not been involved.
4. We have suggested that Immediate cultural sensitivity training sessions should be held for all students, staff and faculty, including security personnel, at Chadsey High School.
5. We have pointed out that there should be an immediate rotation and increase in the school’s security personnel, including the introduction of some Arab-American security personnel.
6. We have called for an immediate evaluation of the bilingual services in the school, which appear to be seriously inadequate.
7. We have urged that the Chadsey High School Parents-Teachers Association (PTA) should be re-energized and restructured, so that it can play a pro-active role in school affairs, forming a real bridge between teachers and parents.
ADC is willing to play more than its part in creating a safe and positive learning environment for all students at the Chadsey High School, but the ultimate responsibility must lie, and does lie, with the school’s administration. If the school’s administration is unwilling or unable to assume this responsibility, we urge that the Detroit School Board consider declaring a crisis and assuming direct responsibility for the administration of the Chadsey High School.