Detroit Students Protest Impure Water

Detroit area students boycott their schools to protest unsafe water.

Detroit area students boycott their schools to protest unsafe water.

By Free Radical

According to the Detroit News, two dozen Detroit high schoolers refused to go to classes during the critical count day on October 3. The students gathered at Cass Corridor Commons to protest local school officials’ mismanagement of a water crisis in their schools. Drinking water in Detroit’s public schools has been found to have copper and lead.

The students demanded city-wide water testing, support for students negatively affected by the impure water, and more decisive action by school administrators. Instead of attending classes the students organized alternative classes which stressed the impact of water poisoning, how to test water at home, natural remedies, and a history of student activism. The alternative classes they took are reminiscent of Freedom Schools held during the Civil Rights and Black Power eras that were believed to have taught a more relevant curriculum more aligned with Black students’ needs.

Before the Detroit Public Schools started on September 4, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, had the drinking water of all system schools be turned off when 16 schools showed high levels of lead and copper. Additional testing showed that 57 schools had water that contained lead or copper and a total of $500 million would be needed to remedy the problem.

The school has since used water coolers which is estimated to cost the school nearly $200,000 for the next several months.

However, these measures are too little and too late for some students. Student organizer and Mumford Student Council President Imani Sharp claims that the concerns of her and her classmates were often dismissed by administrators. In referencing officials’ temporary measures, she noted, “We have no problem with the hydration systems if they can show statistics about how they work, and the water coolers aren’t a solution if they’re always empty.”

The students’ decision to strike on count day, when the state of Michigan determines a school’s enrollment to account for how much money it will receive, is largely symbolic. The students plan to return to school within 30 days and therefore will be counted by their respective schools.

Nonetheless their voices are being heard. Superintendent Vitti has organized a media blitz outlining next steps and a school board meeting that will discuss long term solutions on Tuesday October 9.

The problem of impure water in Michigan gained national attention in recent years with the discovery of unsafe amounts of lead in Flint water. Fifteen local officials who supervised the distribution of Flint water are currently  in court proceedings for their malfeasance.

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