Dozens of Detroit schools close due to teacher protest

AP News
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Posted: Jan 11, 2016 9:42 PM
Dozens of Detroit schools close due to teacher protest

DETROIT (AP) — A wave of teacher absences described by an activist as "rolling strikes" shut down more than half of Detroit's 100 public schools Monday, keeping thousands of students at home as a so-called sick-out entered a second week.

A handful of high schools were forced to close last week due to teachers calling in sick to protest their pay and call for smaller class sizes. But the action Monday was more dramatic as more teachers stayed home, prompting Mayor Mike Duggan to urge the teachers to return to work.

"I understand the teachers' frustration, but our children need our teachers in the classroom," Duggan said in a release. "I encourage the teachers to end the sick-outs and remain in the schools, and I encourage our state officials to move quickly to address these pressing educational problems."

Unlike some cities, Detroit's mayor has no control over the public schools. Detroit's debt-ridden district of 46,000 students has been under state oversight for nearly seven years. The district, which has about $500 million in debt, poor morale among staff and families with other school options, is run by an emergency manager appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.

Lawmakers "must act with urgency to address the problem," Duggan said.

Snyder has called for the state to commit $715 million over a decade to address the 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.

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

The teachers' union, the Detroit Federation of Teachers is not part of the sick-out. But union officials complained Monday about conditions in the schools.

Interim President Ivy Bailey displayed photos of mold in schools. Teachers also said they are dealing with rat and mouse infestations, overcrowded classrooms and supply shortages.

"This is why those sick-outs happened," Bailey told reporters.

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.

Duggan plans to visit some schools Tuesday with the heads of the city's health and buildings departments to make sure the buildings comply with city codes.