Detroit charter school salutatorians use their graduation speeches to condemn their school for putting profits before kids

Zainab Altalaqani and Tuhfa Kasem both graduated from Detroit's Universal Academy this year, and to honor their academic achievements, school administrators named them co-salutatorians, which meant that they would get to address the graduating class, faculty and parents at their graduation ceremony: but instead of using their podium-time to reminisce about their good times in high school or to wonder about their futures, they condemned the school as a for-profit entity that put profits ahead of students' education, firing qualified teachers who complained to the school board about the use of unqualified "paraprofessionals" in classrooms.

The school CEO Nawal Hamadeh cut the students' mic and asked police to remove the salutatorians, but the parents in attendance blocked the police, who backed off. The school later issued a statement claiming that the students had been brainwashed by adults seeking to "sully the academy's honorable achievements and the graduation celebration to cause controversy to serve their own agendas, which have nothing to do with the students' best interest."

Charter Schools have become a flashpoint for political activism through the #RedForEd movement. Charters were invented in the wake of Brown v Board of Ed — a Supreme Court case that ended racial segregation in public schools — as a way to secure public funding for private schools where children of color could be excluded. Charters have since become the darling cause of tech billionaire dilettantes and religious maniacs like Betsy DeVos, the pyramid scheme billionaire whom Trump put in charge of the nation's public education system.

Today, charters have taken over many poor communities, who funnel their tax-dollars to for-profit entities who are permitted to hire un- or under-qualified teachers, or to teach kids via prepackaged "ed-tech" shovelware.

Leslie and some of his colleagues were fired, they said, for attending a board meeting at the school to complain.

They filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board and ultimately settled for lost wages and reversal of their firings, so they wouldn't be hamstrung when they sought work at other schools.

"They were the best teachers in the school," said Sara Saleh, 18, who graduated last year and now attends Wayne State. "Most of the staff members that I've spoken with had complained about the same things."

The school caters to a student population that includes many immigrant children, including those from Yemen and Iraq, who need additional help learning English. Saleh said her English teacher last year was a certified math teacher, who learned English as a second language herself and couldn't help students.

She said she received no help or guidance writing a personal statement for her college application.

Graduation gone bad: Salutatorians rip their Detroit charter school [John Wisely/Detroit Free Press]

(via Naked Capitalism)