Whitney M. Young Students Walk Out to Protest School Merger

click to enlarge Whitney M. Young Students Walk Out to Protest School Merger
Cleveland Metropolitan School District

Whitney M. Young Gifted & Talented Leadership Academy on Cleveland's southeast side is scheduled to merge with other Cleveland schools, and many students and parents are unhappy about the change.

The National Blue Ribbon School currently boasts a 100 percent graduation rate and is one of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District's highest performing campuses. Whitney M. Young also holds the distinction of being Cleveland's first public gifted education school.

The merger of Whitney M. Young will force the high school students to attend John F. Kennedy School, while its elementary school program is set to join with Elliot Elementary School. District CEO Eric Gordon said the merged school will still offer gifted services, just not as a separate school.

After more than 50 students and community members (including City Council member Joe Jones and former councilman Zack Reed) presented concerns about the school merger at Tuesday night's school board meeting, a protest was held this morning outside of the school including a walk-out staged by the students.

According to an email sent to Scene by parent Doretha Mitchell, "We are trying to save our high school because closing it will have a negative effect on our community."

It's important to note that the overwhelming majority of Whitney Young's student population are students of color. Studies have shown that racial disparities in the educational field are still very much alive. White and Asian students are far more likely to have access to gifted or advanced classes, which makes Whitney Young all the more important for Cleveland's black youth. For these students, Whitney Young is not just a school. It's a safe space to foster the gifted minds that would otherwise fall victim to the unfortunate racial disparities and biases that exist within the field of education.

Whitney Young student Tonna Mockabee also expressed concern at a recent school board meeting about the potential violence facing Whitney Young students.

"Frankly, we do not feel safe," she said. "We have been robbed, bullied and jumped by former JFK students."

Student Austin Mitchell added, "The culture at Whitney Young is just completely different from the culture at JFK. "We come to school. We do our work. We take our tests. And we pass them."

District officials, however, say the Whitney Young's declining enrollment, down from 415 in 2007-08 to 183 today, is a major factor in dismantling the standalone school.

Zack Reed, Joe Jones and State Representative John Barnes urged the school board and district officials to personally meet with community members to provide a better understanding of the plan for Whitney Young. District CEO Gordon announced a meeting is being planned for May 9, and that the district is working with Jones on a centralized location.

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