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'We are fighting for our education'; High school students in Muskegon Heights walk out of class to attend board meeting

Parents told 13 ON YOUR SIDE the school had gone into lockdown earlier on Friday in anticipation of the protest.

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. — Shortly before the Muskegon Heights Board of Education began its meeting Friday, dozens of students could be seen exiting the nearby high school building in protest.

Parents told 13 ON YOUR SIDE the school had gone into lockdown earlier Friday in anticipation of the protest, which started when a teacher was reported to have been forced to resign.

During public comment, one student said this teacher has been "consistently fighting for us, at every single board meeting, every single day."

Beginning at the start of the school year, parents and students have been voicing their concerns over a lack of teachers, curriculum, communication and transparency. 

The parents and students are blaming the issues on New Paradigm for Education, the Detroit-based charter school management firm which started running the school district in August.

Friday, students said they were fed up with the state of their high school and shared their frustrations during the meeting, with many of the several dozen students in attendance speaking during the public comment portion of the heated gathering.

"They just refuse to do anything. And that's why we don't have any like extra curricular classes. We don't have cooking classes. We don't have AP classes. I want an AP world history class. We just don't have it," said Taishaun Seals, an 11th grader at the school whose mother signed him out of class to attend.

Another student could be heard emotionally accusing board members of failing to give students "what they need."

A third suggested the board wasn't "doing its job." 

Another student took the podium, and said, "We are fighting for our education. We're not coming here to play around. We're not coming here to just goof around. We are serious."

"I used to be happy to wake up every day, look at my friends and my teachers and be at school, but now I look school, and I'm like 'Why am I here? What am I learning? What? What are we learning? What are y'all teaching us? What is new?'" Another student said during public comment.

Prior to public comment, the group's arrival, which many saw carrying signs and chanting, was followed by a near two-hour closed session, during which came revelations that students in attendance had been threatened with suspension.

Ralph Bland, CEO of New Paradigm for Education issued the follow statement in response to the walkout:

“We strongly believe in the first amendment; everyone has the right to freedom of speech and our students are no exception.  That said, participation in this protest was not sanctioned by the school as parents had not given permission for their children to leave the building and safety is our number one priority.

We started working with the Muskegon Heights Public School Academy System this summer to address a history of student achievement that does not represent the potential of the students the System serves. Our goal, and what we work toward each day, is for students to receive the high level of education that parents expect and children deserve.  We continue to stay focused on just that.“

After the closed session, the district board approved a revised method of selection for members of the academy board. The district board is the authorizer of the academy system and the academy board.

The district board recently faced legal pushback for removing the academy board president. Both students and community members at Friday afternoon's meeting voiced their annoyance at both boards for this back-and-forth on policies and procedures. 

"Nobody understands the word accountability. I'm sick all the finger point. Nobody can take responsibility for anything," a Muskegon Heights resident said during public comment. 

The next meeting in the district is next Monday at the high school, where the academy board will meet at 6 p.m.

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