Benton Harbor, Michigan has a population that is 85 percent African American, and the poverty rate is 48 percent. By 2011 the school district’s debt had ballooned to $18 million. In 2018 Dr. Robert Herrera was appointed as the district’s “CEO” and he was given four years to turn the district around. However, Dr. Herrera resigned in 2019 and newly-elected Governor Gretchen Whitmer proposed closing the district’s high school, igniting a storm of controversy across the state.
In August 2019 the ACLU of Michigan sent a letter warning the governor that closing the school would eliminate one of the only remaining educational, cultural and civic centers in a community that has endured decades of discrimination, marginalization and poverty. The letter also urged the governor not to appoint an emergency manager, as doing so would deny the people of Benton Harbor the right to democratic self-government. Subsequently, Governor Whitmer initiated a working committee made up of diverse interests in the Benton Harbor community to examine options for preserving the high school.
(ACLU Attorneys Mark Fancher, Dan Korobkin and Michael J. Steinberg.)