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Detroit students suspended over walkout start "Freedom School"

Western and Southwestern High School students staged a walkout Wednesday
via ourvoicessouthwestdetroit.tumblr.com
Western and Southwestern High School students staged a walkout Wednesday

More than 100 students were suspended from Detroit’s Western International High School this week.

Those students were part of a group that walked out of school to protest district policies, and what they say is a poor-quality education.

Now, some of the students are setting up what they’re calling a “freedom school” to attend while they’re suspended.

Raychel Gafford says she was suspended for a week—and ticketed by police—after she helped lead the walkout.

She and other students were protesting conditions at the school—which they say includes a lack of basic supplies, and regular verbal abuse from some teachers and school officials.

Western students were joined by some students from nearby Southwestern High School in the walkout. Southwestern is set to close and merge with Western next school year—a move many students say will cause more problems.

Gafford says her efforts to organize the protest and the freedom school stem from the same motivation.

“We need a voice in our school system,” Gafford said Friday, as she, other students and a few supportive adults tried to organize the freedom school. “That school system is supposed to work for us. It’s supposed to work with us. And it’s definitely not doing that.”

Western student Freddie Burse says they want to show school and district officials they’re serious about their education—and their concerns.

“They were saying that the way we went about protesting our education was stupid, to walk out on our education,” Burse said. “So basically what we figured is ‘Ok fine, you want to suspend us…we’re still gonna come here and try to get educated.’”

Students at another Detroit school staged a similar protest last month. 50 Frederick Douglass Academy students were suspended after that walkout.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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