• DPS Disregards Its own data, FOIA Law, And Special Education Rules as it rushes to close a beloved community school

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    “The district has been unable to substantiate any of [the claims it made to parents in justifying closing Oakman].  Rather than declining 50 percent, enrollment has actually increased since 2009. DPS in 2003 determined the school’s capacity to be 290. With an official enrollment of 288 today, the school is operating at 99.3 percent capacity, not 50 percent.”

     

    Oakman Orthopedic School parents, children and supporters protest planned closing outside DPS headquarters in Fisher Bldg. July 24, 2013. Photo by Maiyoua Vang

    Oakman Orthopedic School parents, children and supporters protest planned closing outside DPS headquarters in Fisher Bldg. July 24, 2013. Photo by Maiyoua Vang

    Roy Roberts, former DPS Manager, who had unparalleled authority over DPS affairs, didn’t fire his team.  Instead he set the district on a new course.  Since 2009 DPS Emergency Managers had taken more than 100 schools off the books.  Now he was reversing course.  Only four schools– not 28– would be closed.  And these would be the last.

    As for those final four, “I do not take the closing of any school or program lightly.” Roberts noted with gravity.  “In fact there is nothing that I take more seriously because I know the impact closing a school can have on a community.”

    But Roberts’ seriousness in his decision to close at least one of those schools, Oakman Elementary/Orthopedic, is hard to discern.

    Oakman serves approximately 300 PreK to 5 children, about 40 percent of whom have special needs.  Because special and general education students coming from their first day of school, young children grow up seeing the humanity in each other. This goes a long way to eradicating the fear and stereotypes that lead to stigmatization.

    The school’s distinctive features include accessible entryways, a single floor layout, rooms for performing diaper changes and catheterizations, and a wheelchair accessible greenhouse and playground. School personnel form a tight-knit, loving community of professionals who take tremendous pride in every facet of the school.

    Roberts, in a communication to the school’s families in April, explained the need to close the school:

    “Facility Condition: Very bad flooring, requires new bathrooms, as well as complete security and mechanical system upgrades at a cost of over $900,000.  Sharply declining enrollment: Just 288 students in a school with capacity for 446; approximately 50% of seats un-occupied.  Lost 50% of enrollment since 2009.”

    But the district has been unable to substantiate any of these claims. 

    Enrollment numbers for Oakman are readily available on the DPS website.  Rather than declining 50 percent, enrollment has actually increased since 2009, when it stood at 265.  

    DPS in 2003 determined the school’s capacity to be 290.  With an official enrollment of 288 today, the school is operating at 99.3 percent capacity, not 50 percent.

    The district maintains that the building capacity is now 446, even though neither the square footage of the building nor the composition of its student body has changed.  School leaders, who say they were never consulted in increasing the school’s stated capacity, surmise that the district has simply inflated the number by over 50 percent by assuming every classroom in the school is a “regular education” classroom with a capacity of 25-33 students. However at Oakman, one of the classrooms in each grade is a classroom for students with physical and other health impairments.  By law, such classrooms have a capacity of just 10 students, not 25-33.

    Oakman-school-closing1Read more on the th Detroit Data and Democracy Project featuring Dr. Thomas Pedroni

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