Battle to buy a school

After legal fight with the Detroit district, local charter Detroit Prep is ‘back full force’ working on the building

PHOTO: Detroit Prep
The former Anna M. Joyce Elementary School has sat vacant since it was closed by the district in 2009. A charter school has been blocked from buying it.

The leader of a charter school that has been battling the Detroit district over a property says she expects her school to move into its new home in December.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a pro-free market think tank that has ties to the family of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, released a promotional video on Wednesday highlighting its support of Detroit Prep, an elementary charter school. The video offers an update on the building that the charter school hopes to occupy by December.

“We are back full force, working on the building,” Kyle Smitley, the co-founder and executive director of Detroit Prep said in the video. “Our architects are here regularly, our contractors are here regularly. We are behind schedule but everyone’s working really hard to pick up the pace.”

District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said final sale documents have “not yet” been signed but said he is not aware of “major issues” still holding up the sale. 

The building is currently owned by a private developer who bought it from the district in 2014.

The school, currently located in Indian Village, operates out of a church basement and serves 75 students. Smitley wanted to move her school to the vacant Joyce Elementary School because she plans to add a grade level every year, and the larger space allows for that.

The sale drew national attention as it ran into problems last year when Detroit Prep tried to buy the elementary school, which had been owned by the Detroit district. The purchase was prevented because of a deed restriction added to the property when the district sold it to a developer.

“It was a way to avoid competition,” said Jason Gourley in the video, the pro bono lawyer and Detroit Prep parent who took on the case. Detroit Prep filed suit against the district last year.

But Vitti said the district gave up the legal fight after Gov. Rick Snyder in January signed legislation giving a major boost to Detroit Prep, making deed restriction language much more clear.

“As a district, we defended the right of Detroit taxpayers and voters to determine the use of their community’s assets,” Vitti said in an email.

The bill clarified language making it illegal for government entities, including school districts, to use deed restrictions to prevent educational institutions from acquiring former school buildings.

Watch the video below.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story reported that renovations are underway at the school. Smitley informed Chalkbeat after this story was published that renovations had not yet begun. (Smitley did not respond to a request from Chalkbeat for comment before publication of the initial story). The story also has been updated to better reflect the status of the building sale.

Who's leaving?

63 teachers are leaving Detroit’s main district. Here’s a list of their names and former schools.

PHOTO: Getty Images

Is your child’s favorite teacher saying goodbye to the Detroit Public Schools Community District?

Last week, Detroit’s main district released the names of 63 teachers and 55 building staff members who retired or resigned by the end of June. We have a list of their names and the schools where they worked.

Rather than leave classrooms during the school year, teachers typically choose to retire or switch school districts while students are on break. This is only the first wave of departures expected this summer — one reason schools in Detroit are racing to hire certified teachers by the fall.

But for Detroit families, the teachers on this list are more than a number. Scroll down to see if an educator who made a difference in your child’s life — or your own — is leaving the district.

Teacher and staff separations in June 2018. Source: Detroit Public Schools Community District

Sharing Stories

Tell us your stories about children with special needs in Detroit

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

Parents of students with special needs face difficult challenges when trying to get services for their children. Understanding their children’s rights, getting them evaluated and properly diagnosed, and creating an educational plan are among the many issues families face.

Chalkbeat Detroit wants to hear more about those issues to help inform our coverage. We are kicking off a series of conversations called a “listening tour” to discuss your concerns, and our first meeting will focus on children with special needs and disabilities. We’re partnering with the Detroit Parent Network as they look for solutions and better ways to support parents.

Our listening tour, combined with similar events in other communities Chalkbeat serves, will continue throughout this year on a variety of topics. In these meetings, we’ll look to readers, parents, educators, and students to help us know what questions we should ask, and we’ll publish stories from people who feel comfortable having their stories told. We hope you’ll share your stories and explore solutions to the challenges parents face.

Our special education listening tour discussion will take place from 5:30-7:30 p.m., Tuesday July 24, at the Detroit Parent Network headquarters, 726 Lothrop St., Detroit.

As our series continues, we’ll meet at locations around the city to hear stories and experiences parents have while navigating the complexities of getting children the education and services they deserve.

Next week’s event includes a panel discussion with parents of children with special needs, responses from parent advocates, and an open discussion with audience members.

Those who are uncomfortable sharing stories publicly will have a chance to tell a personal story on an audio recorder in a private room, or will be interviewed by a Chalkbeat Detroit reporter privately.

The event is free and open to anyone who wants to attend, but reservations are required because space is limited. To register, complete this form, call 313-309-8100 or email

If you can’t make our event, but have a story to share, send an email to, or call or send a text message to 313-404-0692.

Stayed tuned for more information about listening tour stops, topics and locations.