According to Highland Park School District's emergency manager, the materials -- which included a historic collection of black history books, tapes and film from the district’s high school library -- were thrown out by accident and have since been recovered, the Associated Press reports.
However, community members who attended the protest doubted the statement and demanded that Gov. Rick Snyder replace the library’s collection, according to the Detroit Free Press.
“It hurts -- it’s painful,” said Linda Wheeler, whose group, Citizens for Highland Park Public Schools, plans to continue protesting until materials are restored. “Children need books to learn. Every child needs books to learn about their history. We want our library restored," she told the Detroit Free Press.
Donald Weatherspoon, who has been the district’s emergency manager since October 2012, told The Huffington Post the materials were accidentally discarded when work crews were moving them from public spaces to room under lock and key. Additionally, he said he is unaware of any materials that are still missing.
“My goal was to place everything in a secure environment which is what we’re doing now. Until someone says specifically what’s missing I don’t know what they’re talking about,” Weatherspoon said.
Yet, reports suggest the discarded documents may have been a rallying point for protestors who were upset with the direction of the district at large. Protestors gathered outside of Renaissance Academy High School, for example, lamented the lack of local control over the school district. (The Highland Park School District has been run by a state-appointed emergency manager since January 2012, after a financial review team found that the district was in a state of financial emergency.)
In response to the outrage, Weatherspoon noted that the school district has been “undergoing a radical change in the last year” and that “whenever something like this occurs people have to understand that you have to make hard decisions.” However, he also noted that it in order to make the district financially solvent, he will need the support of the local community.
Still, protestors appear to specifically blame Weatherspoon for the district's woes. Historian Paul Lee, who helped order some of the discarded documents in the 1990s, blasted the leader during an interview with local outlet WDIV-TV.
“It breaks my heart that our children and grandchildren may not be as lucky because of a decision and the incompetence of one man who is imposed upon us by the state,” Lee told the outlet.
Additionally, a member of the district's school board, Andre' Davis, resigned over the incident, citing his opposition to Weatherspoon's policies.
"You're discarding file cabinets, desks ...if we have a deficit, can't we sell some of this stuff? It has value. But there's no communication to the community and you're being dictated to. That's not the American way," Davis said at the protest, according to WDIV-TV.
When asked about Davis’ resignation, Weatherspoon said there were “other reasons in addition to what [Davis is] saying,” although he said he could not comment on specifics.
Highland Park is one of three school districts in Michigan under the control of an emergency manager. According to Weatherspoon, the district's enrollment has declined more than 58 percent in recent years.