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Kalamazoo schools intends to file a lawsuit against Michigan to stop school closures

The Washington Writer's Academy in Kalamazoo
Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
The state's School Reform Office Washington Writer's Academy in Kalamazoo could close.

The Kalamazoo school board will sue the state to try to stop Michigan’s School Reform Office from closing two of its schools. The board announced Thursday it’s joining with Saginaw schools to file the lawsuit early next week.

Thirty eight schools across the state are at risk of closure because of poor performance on state standardized tests. School officials don’t think the state has the authority to close schools and they say scattering students won’t help academic achievement.

It’s not like Briana Wolverton’s 9 year old son is stuck in a failing school. She says she chose to take her child to Washington Writer’s Academy in Kalamazoo. She says he’s flourished in his year and half there.

But because the school has scored in the bottom five-percent on state standardized tests, she got a letter in the mail last month saying the school could close. She was so heart broken, she waited three days to tell her son.

“In the days since, we have had a conversation almost every night about how he’s not a failure,” Wolverton said. “It’s hard not to get emotional when I think about it because this whole process has been horrible.”

Tammy Pawlowski’s son is a 4th grader at Woodward School for Technology and Research; one of two Kalamazoo schools that could be closed. She says she wants to join the lawsuit because she doesn’t feel that writing letters or calling politicians is getting the message through.

“It feels like a Band-Aid, not a real solution. I want this to stop. Because what happens next year? Is this going to go on every year?” Pawlawski asked.

Wolverton and Pawlowski say their children have been able to build relationships with their teachers and the school staffs. They and other parents joining the case worry their children may not be able to get in other schools or other districts. Both women say they love that the schools are close to their jobs.

Attorneys for the Kalamazoo and Saginaw school boards say they’ll file the lawsuit on behalf of the two districts and a number of parents early next week. He would not get into the specifics of the case.

Detroit has also hired a law firm to look at its legal options to fight proposed closures in that city.

It’s not clear yet if the School Reform Office will ultimately move to close all 38 schools, or just a portion. The process of determining which schools will face closure is not clear to administrators in Kalamazoo, following site visits to the two schools earlier this month.

Kalamazoo’s superintendent also said one staffer at the School Reform Office had never heard of the Kalamazoo Promise; a college scholarship offered to students in the district since 2005. He said SRO officials have not communicated what the next steps in the potential closure process will be or how district officials would be notified. The state caused a stir among parents when it sent letters directly to students’ homes about the potential closures without warning district officials.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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