Chanting, whistling and cheering, nearly 175 students left class at Western International High School in Southwest Detroit Wednesday morning to participate in a joint walkout with students from nearby Southwestern High School.
Around 75 people marching from Southwestern joined the Western students and community supporters for a rally in nearby Clark Park.
They were protesting the scheduled closing of Southwestern High School and demanding a better education for themselves and others in the Detroit Public Schools district. Southwestern is one of five high schools the district plans to shutter next year as officials look to consolidate and cut costs.
DPS spokesman Steven Wasko said Southwestern was chosen for closure "due to attendance and enrollment patterns as well as academic patterns." He said the school has consistently ended up on the state's list of bottom-performing schools. Southwestern's nearly 600 students will be offered space at Western International and Northwestern high schools next year.
But students are concerned about that plan. A 14-year-old student from Southwestern said she was worried about violence. "Western's so packed and there's gang rivals, and there's going to be fights every day," she said.
She said the entire student body left the Southwestern building earlier Wednesday morning after someone pulled a fire alarm. Most students returned to class, but she said she came to the rally because she was concerned about how the closure would affect her classmates.
A Western student told HuffPost she was worried her school didn't have enough books and other supplies to share with transferring students.
She said security had warned her and her friends about trying to leave class Wednesday morning, but said she wasn't intimidated.
"They told us, 'If you walk out, you'll be suspended, go to jail, get a 500-dollar ticket,'" she said. "But we don't care. We're going to protect our school."
Wasko said students who participated in the walkout would face repercussions.
"We will fully enforce the student code of conduct, including skipping classes during a school day," he said. Punishment, which could include suspensions, will be determined by the schools' principals and assistant principals.
"We think one particular aspect of the walkout that is very troubling, frankly, is evidence of very irresponsible behavior by adults from outside the school," Wasko said, adding he believed the action was organized by adults. But several students told HuffPost the protests were student-initiated.
"We're walking out to try and save our public school system," said Raychel, a 17-year-old student attending Western. "It's on its way to being privatized and we think that we deserve equal opportunity and an equal education."
She said the district's state-appointed emergency manager, Roy Roberts, has been unresponsive to efforts to meet with students.
Wasko said Southwestern parents failed to participate in a two-day retreat with DPS officials and the Detroit Parent Network held last week that would have addressed some concerns.
The Wednesday action marks the second walkout by DPS students in less than a month. According to the Detroit Free Press, 50 students were suspended after leaving their classrooms at Detroit's Frederick Douglass Academy on March 29 to protest a lack of teachers and the removal of the school's principal.
In the below video made by students with support of Detroit Summer, students explain their decision to walk out:
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