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Group criticizes GRPS, says district is doing the bidding of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

John Rothwell

Grand Rapids Public Schools is facing public scrutiny from a newly formed activist group that claims, that not only is the district a school system for the “gifted and affluent,” its neglecting its minority students. 

The new activist group calls themselves Grand Rapids for Education Justice, and on Monday evening held a news conference on the steps of the Grand Rapids Public Schools Administration’s office, to call out the district for what they say are three egregious errors.

Brenda Bierns is the spokesperson for the group. She says the district is a two teir system-- that separates students based on abilities, race, and economic worth. She says, the district does this by offering school of choice theme schools such as the new, Innovation High School and City High Middle School-- that not only have academic requirements to get in, they reside in well maintained buildings, while other schools deal with problems like chronic faulty heating systems.

Bierns says, the district has become a charter school district, masquerading as a public one, and all under the blessing of Education Director Betsy DeVos.

“Betsy’s charter ideas are directly related to the school’s transformation plan,” Bierns said. “And that Transformation Plan is changing the look of education in our country today. We are essentially privatizing education in this country and in West Michigan, the home of Betsy DeVos.”  

John Helmholdt is the district’s Communication Director. He says, he rejects the notion that the district has neglected minority students, as the numbers he says, speak for themselves.

“That is just false and inaccurate, and not really representative of the real numbers," Helmholdt said. If you look at what we have accomplished under the Transformation Plan, the numbers, graduation rates are up 60 percent, for African-American students, its 75 percent,” he said. Helmholdt added that the district is also investing $17 million to upgrade Ottawa Hills High School. 

The Grand Rapids for Education Group concluded by attending the GRPS School Board meeting Monday night, and called on the district to drop entrance requirements at theme schools.