On November 16, 2022, a large group of sixth-grade students from Rochester Community Schools’ Hart Middle School went to a Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) event downtown, and stopped for a pre-arranged lunch at Niki’s Pizza. The group was too large for the facility to accommodate them in the restaurant, so they were seated in the “lounge” area, a second-floor bar with the usual array of containers of alcohol on display, and several floor-to-ceiling “pole-dancing” fixtures installed directly in front of the dining tables.
Lounge owner Angela Kefallinos was quoted as saying that these poles are “decorations.” Kefallinos added that the school knew when the reservation was made that the restaurant could not accommodate the large group of students anywhere but upstairs in Niki’s Lounge, which has an alcohol-stocked bar. She added that it was “absolutely made known to them [the school liaison officer] that the students would be seated in the lounge,” next to the stripper poles. Photos were later posted which appear to show several of the students pole dancing during the visit to the restaurant/lounge.
The public was made aware of the incident by a newly-elected Rochester School Board member, Andrew Weaver. Weaver posted photos and objections on his Facebook page. According to an article published in the Detroit News on Jan. 16, Mr. Weaver “publicly questioned how middle-school students on a field trip to Detroit ended up having lunch in a restaurant that contained an adult lounge with stripper poles.” Weaver’s candid comments on social media have sparked outrage among other parents as well.
Rather than commend Weaver for standing strong on behalf of transparency within the school system, he is being punished for being a squeaky wheel making it more difficult for unsuspecting precocious children to be subjected to bizarre behavior.
“In its first substantive act of the New Year, Rochester’s school board voted to censure a new member through a Disclaiming Motion for sharing communications between public officials with the public. It’s an indication that one of the region’s least transparent school districts intends to continue operating in the dark.”
Weaver was punished for sharing a letter with the public written by Rochester Schools Superintendent Robert Shaner to the board, in which he threatened to “take legal action if it did not keep Weaver in line.” Because of this, he was censured by the school board majority, who are politically aligned with Shaner and fully supportive of the superintendent’s restrictive actions against parents.
One Rochester Schools parent filed a civil rights lawsuit last year alleging that Shaner and other school district leaders called her employer and maligned her reputation, resulting in her termination, because of her involvement in two groups – RCS Parents for In-Person Education, and Conservative Parents for Rochester. Parents have called on Shaner’s resignation after the district reportedly spied on parents via social media and created a dossier of the school district’s political enemies.
The Board operates under a “Code of Cooperation,” which intends to keep the district’s business quiet and attempts to punish and shame those who refuse to comply, such as Weaver. This instance shows how fighting corruption at the school board level, or any level for that matter, is not easy because institutional power will unite to prevent any reforms and block accountability. This is why the Grand New Party is so necessary to help these proven fighters stay in office and to give them resources to fight the good fight.