Parent Vs. School Board: When Fruit Flies!
Throwing fruit at Detroit Public Schools board members may seem like sour grapes, but it's also assault and battery and disorderly conduct, if you consider the charges that were filed Wednesday against the alleged grape-thrower.When things are so bad that folks who attend a local school board meeting must pass through metal detectors, things are bad.
Agnes Hitchcock, the activist who board members say threw red grapes at board members during a raucous meeting Wednesday, was arrested by Detroit Public Schools officers, charged and released on a $100 bond, spokesman Lekan Oguntoyinbo said. Those incidents carry the charge of high misdemeanors, he said.
Hitchcock, head of the activist Call 'em-Out Coalition, often attends school board meetings to protest the school board's actions. She could not be reached for comment.
School board President Jimmy Womack said most school meetings are civil, but the two recent meetings have grown unruly because of hot-button issues such as school closures. He said the district must begin enforcing city ordinances about decorum at public meetings.
"People who sit on a school board do not get paid and are subjected to name-calling, character assassination and slander and now have to be subjected to having people's garbage thrown at them," Womack said. "What will they throw next?"
The board on Wednesday voted to close 34 schools in fall 2007 and another eight in 2008 if they don't meet enrollment and academic targets. Much of the voting was drowned out by jeering from members of the public angered by the closures.
The crowd also grew rowdy at a meeting two weeks ago when school closures were considered. At that meeting, Womack made a statement suggesting some people in the audience couldn't read a report the district sought to present, which riled the crowd and caused Womack to call a mid-meeting recess.
All meetings are staffed by officers from the Detroit Public Schools police force. The district employs 80 full-time police officers. Anyone who attends the meetings also must pass through metal detectors.
School board Vice President Joyce Hayes-Giles, who was hit by a grape, said she filed a report with police Wednesday to press charges against Hitchcock.
Hayes-Giles, who said she plans to run for re-election despite the incident and other recent heated board meetings, said she was horrified by Hitchcock's behavior.
"I guess I expected emotion," she said of the meeting. "But I don't expect people to carry out violent behavior, and I call that violent behavior. I just personally was embarrassed for the audience."
Womack said thumbtacks also were found on the meeting floor, and he believes Hitchcock also threw thumbtacks. Oguntoyinbo said it's unclear how many grapes were thrown. A smashed red grape also was found on the ground.
Womack has been a frequent target of Hitchcock's Call 'em-Out group. He said Hitchcock went on a radio show and accused him and his wife of poisoning children.
The coalition also labels elected officials they believe to be community sell-outs. Womack, school board member Reverend David Murray and Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick have been named by the group.
Call 'em-Out, which opposed the state takeover of the Detroit school board, also launched a recall effort last year to oust most of the City Council and school board members.
Womack called Hitchcock's release on $100 bond "inappropriate" and said the school board planned to levy a charge against her of disrupting a school board meeting, which he said is in violation of city ordinances.
Hayes-Giles said the board will continue to toss people out of meetings when they become disruptive, but she said she will not be deterred by disorderly behavior.
"I ran for the school board because I was able to improve my life because I got a good education," said Hayes-Giles, an executive at DTE.
"I want that for every child of Detroit. That's the reason I would run again. I still believe kids need that opportunity. I need to finish what I started."