More Detroit Schools Closed Due to Teacher ‘Sick-outs’; Mayor to Tour Some Buildings

A group of over a hundred teachers, joined by parents and children, protest Monday Jan. 11, 2016, in Detroit.  (Kim Kozlowski, AP)
A group of over a hundred teachers, joined by parents and children, protest Monday Jan. 11, 2016, in Detroit. (Kim Kozlowski, AP)

At least two dozen Detroit public schools were closed Tuesday as teacher sick-outs forced officials to again keep students at home, although the number of schools affected was not as high as a day earlier.

Mayor Mike Duggan, meanwhile, planned to visit schools with health officials after complaints from a labor union that some school buildings are moldy and infested with rodents.

The Detroit Federation of Teachers is not part of the sick-out, which teachers have undertaken to protest pay and large class sizes, among other things. But union officials complained Monday about conditions in the schools after about half of them had to close because of a wave of teacher absences described by an activist as “rolling strikes.”

“This is why those sick-outs happened,” the union’s interim president, Ivy Bailey, told reporters while displaying photographs of mold in schools.

More than half of Detroit’s 100 public schools were closed Monday, idling thousands of kids.

Unlike some mayors, Duggan has no control over the schools. Detroit’s debt-ridden district of 46,000 students has been under state oversight for nearly seven years. The district is run by an emergency manager appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.

But the city can inspect the school buildings to make sure they comply with city codes.

“Based on what we find, the city of Detroit will take whatever enforcement action is necessary to make sure all Detroit public schools are compliant with all health and building codes,” Duggan said in a written statement.

Duggan said he understands the teachers’ frustrations but urged them to return to work. He also urged state officials “to move quickly to address these pressing educational problems.”

A teacher and former union president, Steve Conn, said the shutdowns were “great.” Conn had warned the district Sunday that parents needed to be notified about the “rolling strikes.”

Snyder has called for the state to commit $715 million over a decade to address the district’s $500 million debt and relaunch the district under a new name. The plan includes a reorganization that could lead to closing independent, publicly funded charter schools, where more than half of Detroit students are enrolled. However, Snyder’s plan has yet to receive support in the Legislature — including from fellow Republicans.

The district’s emergency manager, Darnell Earley, said in a statement that officials “understand and share” the frustrations of teachers but that the teacher absences make it “more challenging” to reach a political solution with state lawmakers.

State schools Superintendent Brian Whiston said he has scheduled a meeting with Earley to discuss health and safety concerns brought up by the teachers’ union. Whiston did not say when the meeting would take place.