Crashing by designWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Toledo Public Schools (TPS) plot to demolish Libbey High School is an act of institutional terrorism.
If someone were to describe a scenario in which an authoritative body funded by the public entered a nearly 90-year-old institution, scattered its people, gutted its neighborhood’s identity and threatened to demolish its building, your mind might flash to Sarajevo or Fallujah.
But this atrocity is being waged in the South End of Toledo.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, people scheming to eradicate a way of life through fear and violence are rightly branded as extremists and enemies of society. In Toledo, this unforgivable scenario is being perpetrated by the school system and its board members. Rather than blowing shrapnel through flesh, they shrug their shoulders with indifference. Rather than plant bombs underfoot, they nod their heads and take notes. Rather than standing and firing bullets, they look into cameras and cite statistics.
These calumniators wear business ties and pantsuits, but they are just as responsible for their actions as any bomb-strapped insurgent. It’s a passive-aggressive approach, destruction through neglect, but when all is said and done, the members of the TPS Board of Education — Bob Vasquez, Lisa Sobecki, Larry Sykes, Jack Ford and Brenda Hill — will forever have Libbey’s blood on their hands. By placing the short-term financial considerations of TPS above the long-term needs of the community, the board members have betrayed their constituents, their responsibilities and the future of an entire neighborhood.
Once a giant such as Libbey has fallen, it is easier for the assassins to close other schools in their mission of “rightsizing,” a phrase so Orwellian, it is shocking it’s not used in “1984.”
A wrecking ball blasting through the walls of Libbey High School will not have anywhere near the national impact on life and liberty as an airplane hurtling into an office framework or a truckload of fertilizer exploding into a federal building, but the damage blistered into Western Avenue will create its own crater of permanent loss.
When terrorists attack, there are heroic first responders willing to risk their own lives to help. Firefighters, police officers and people of all walks of life rush to offer aid.
The only defenders standing between Libbey and its destruction are a handful of people who understand that the day Libbey becomes rubble is the day that a significant number of South End residents are going to realize they have been symbolically torn into pieces by an institutional suicide bomber. Those people will not fight by taking up arms; they will choose flight by taking to their feet, leaving the area to further sink into boarded-up houses, closed businesses and abandoned people.
Everything that troubles TPS can be viewed through the lens of what went wrong at Libbey High School. Declining population. Dwindling resources. Crumbling infrastructure. Community apathy.
Back in September, after touring my high school alma mater one last time, I wrote a prematurely dismissive good-bye to the school. I discussed the memories and people who made Libbey what it was.
“But those moments were not shared with a brick or a hallway,” I wrote. “It was the people at Libbey who made it special, and their spirit, through the alumni association and hall of fame, will not crumble when the wrecking ball hits. Their love and fellowship will not die, even as the fortress passes into dust.”
That was written from a mindset of sadness and acceptance. After closely following the efforts of Sue Terrill and Warren Woodberry, two of the people leading the effort to preserve Libbey, my passive emotions have been replaced by anger. If it weren’t for Terrill, Woodberry and those who stand beside them, Libbey would be turned to dust accompanied by only whispers of resignation. The group working to save the building is instead mustering a roar of protest that should wake all of us from our slumber of surrender and remind us that there are things worth fighting for, no matter how long the odds.
Toledoans are accustomed to standing by helplessly as the past is erased — homes, schools, malls, restaurants, theaters. Terrill, Woodberry and their soldiers may not have money or easy solutions, but they are standing and fighting, and that deserves respect and consideration.
Terrill and Woodberry know there are more questions than answers. Should all of Libbey be saved, or just its more modern elements? Are supporters correct when they say it could be a “business and community center, providing a place to develop new technologies and jobs for our community and our city”? Where will the money come from, not just today but in the following years and decades? Is there such a thing as a high school being “too big to fail?” Would this energy and attention be better devoted to schools that still serve children? Would neighbors rather see an empty field than a closed school? Is it too late to save Libbey? Is it too late to save the neighborhood and its people?
These questions are thin battle cries against the plan to destroy Libbey High School and decimate its struggling neighborhood. But in this fight, the terrorists are in plain sight and their methods are well-known. Even if questions are not enough to slow and stop the destruction, their echoes will forever haunt the legacies of those who actively shepherded Libbey’s demise — and of those who stood by passively and allowed them to triumph.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. E-mail him at email@example.com.