School for Young Mothers is Disposable for Detroit

By Meghan Shalvoy

Yesterday morning I wrote a story for our daily Feminist News site about the closing of Catherine Ferguson Academy. It turned out to be difficult for me to keep my language neutral in any way or maintain journalistic integrity; hence I must now blog about it because I’m pissed off.

I originally heard about this story from the fantastically feminist Rachel Maddow Show in April. Catherine Ferguson Academy (CFA), established in 1986 and one of only three like it in the country, is a high school for pregnant teens and young mothers. CFA provides early education and day care, the young women maintain a farm on school grounds which was the focus of the 2009 documentary “Grown in Detroit,” receive parenting classes as well as support to graduate and continue with higher education.

In April Detroit’s Emergency Financial Manager, Roy Roberts, called for closure of the school, along with 17 others, during the summer of 2011 unless an acceptable proposal was made to convert it to a charter school. (See Maddow video for how horrifyingly undemocratic the very existence of an emergency manager is, because I can’t even go there.)

On April 15, in an impressive display of democracy, organizing skill and courage, the young women from CFA protested the decision to close the school. Several students and community members peacefully occupied the school after-hours, accompanied by a press release listing their demands. They were not only advocating for CFA, but for “no school closings” and calling to “Keep All Detroit Schools Public – No More Charters or Privatization.” Police came soon after demanding instead that they leave school grounds, and when they did not, eight teenage girls were arrested.

I do understand that in difficult economic times cuts need to be made in some difficult places. But at what cost? Keep in mind, CFA is only one of 18 schools slated for closure this summer, several of which are for at-risk teens. Is it really so dispensable that these are young kids who will likely only reach their full potential with the support and attention of educators like CFA principal Asenath Andrews, not to mention the toll it will take on their children and families? By casting these teens, Detroit is reproducing a cycle of poverty which results in dependency on social services and feeds this country’s prison industrial complex.

CFA boasts a 90% graduation rate with all graduates continuing on to college. According to the organization Detroit Literacy, Detroit has an illiteracy rate of 47% — which typically affects women disproportionately. Are high-performing, unique and successful public schools really the place to be saving a nickel?

Take action: sign the growing petition to express support for the educators and students at Catherine Ferguson Academy.

Update 6/10: If you’re in the Detroit area, see comments for information about a rally in support of CFA on Thursday June 16!!

Update 6/16: On the day the community rallied in support of CFA, the same day it was set to close, Principal Andrews announced that the Academy will STAY OPEN as a charter school. While charter schools are not an ideal solution, the impact of CFA in the community will remain according to the Blair Evans, the chief educational officer of the Detroit-based charter agency which will now operate CFA. From this afternoon’s The Detroit News article on the subject:

“The academy, run by chief academic officer Blair Evans, will operate the school at its current site and continue its educational programs.

Blair said Ferguson’s leadership and core staff will remain, including retaining Andrews.”

1 comment

  1. ALL OUT TO CFA June 16th – Hundreds of supporters planning to attend!
    2750 Selden Street, two blocks north of MLK/Mack, one block east of I-96
    Defend Your Right to a Quality Education!
    Unite in Action with The Catherine Ferguson Academy for Young Women (CFA)!

    Catherine Ferguson Academy (CFA) is a Detroit Public School. CFA is a JEWELL of DETROIT and it is about to be stolen from our community- we must defend it and defend ourselves. CFA students are standing on their feet fighting to defend public education, fighting to stop the destruction of programs in all of our schools through class size increases and elimination of our teachers, and against the closing of all of the public schools on the closing list. CFA is on the list to be closed. It is a school for pregnant and parenting teenage girls. At CFA, our sisters, cousins and friends, are not treated as outcasts, but are cared for and treated as fellow persons with value. CFA is a regular comprehensive high school, where the students can bring their children. There is early childhood development and pre-school, and nurseries. There are doctors, nurses and others who come to the school to provide services for the students and their children to make sure that they are all successful. There is also a wonderful farm with goats, ducks, chickens, honeybees, fruit trees, vegetables and even a horse. In a society where being a teenage mother enslaves most to a life of poverty and limited opportunity, CFA is like the first “safe house” stop on the underground railroad to freedom, a place of new beginning and hope for young women who have been told by so many that their own lives are over.

    We can save all of our schools and programs by uniting in action at CFA to make it clear that the new “Jim Crow”, second class treatment of black and Latina/o and other minority students has no place in our city. On April 15, 2011, the brave students of CFA led Detroit and shook up the nation by sitting down and refusing to leave the school over spring break. This action resulted in numerous schools coming off of the closing list. However, CFA is still on the closing list and is being used as a “political football” between the Democrats and the Republicans, both of whom could keep the school open, but neither will without a fight led by the students to make them keep it open. Next time at CFA, if hundreds, not just dozens of people are gathered outside to defend the school, we will save CFA and win more of our demands.

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