‘Snyder Flu’: Teacher ‘Sick-Outs’ Draw Attention To ‘Deplorable’ Conditions In Detroit Public Schools

A majority of the schools within the Detroit Public Schools are closed due to teacher sick-outs. Over a month ago, three schools in Detroit were closed after teachers called in sick with an ailment they call “Snyder flu.” Now, it seems that Snyder flu season is in full effect in Detroit Public Schools. See, Detroit Public Schools were appointed an emergency manager under Governor Rick Snyder’s plan to treat faltering public entities more like a business.

The emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools is none other than Darnell Earley, who served as Flint’s emergency manager from September, 2013, until January, 2015, according to Mlive. For those who missed it, the City of Flint is at the center of a fiasco stemming from children acquiring lead poisoning, and fingers are being pointed to Gov. Rick Snyder and his emergency manager appointment plans.

Earley says that the teacher sick-outs are harming Detroit students.

“Using students as pawns to advance a political position, in my opinion, is not only unacceptable, it is also unethical,” Earley said, according to Click On Detroit.

Teachers, on the other hand, say this is not a political move. They say that some of the buildings in the Detroit Public School system pose legitimate health hazards to themselves and the students. For example, at Vernor Elementary School, teachers tell Local 4 that actual mushrooms grow out of the walls in the schools. They say that it’s not just there, either. Teachers tell reporters mushrooms have been seen growing from the walls at other schools in the district, as well.

“It is important for you to note that this is not a current situation at Vernor Elementary. This issue was completely addressed months ago and that condition no longer exists within the school,” DPS said in a statement, but teachers have countered that black mold, which presents serious health consequences, was found growing at Spain Elementary.

“The sick-out is a response to some of the deplorable conditions that the students find themselves in,” DPS graduate and teacher Tracy Russell, who has three children in the district, explained. The teachers say they can’t help but make a parallel between Detroit Public Schools and the City of Flint, which is in an officially declared state of emergency over the water crisis right now.

“They were poisoned to save a dime. So, you know, it just begs the question… we can do better. The sick-out says ‘enough is enough,’ ” Russell said, explaining that the majority of parents are not upset with teachers over the sick-outs.

Darnell Earley acknowledges the concerns of teachers, but says that the teachers calling in sick are misguided. Meanwhile, the Detroit Federation of Teachers called for public hearings. They want the schools investigated for health and safety hazards students.

“The deplorable conditions in our schools have created a serious environmental and educational crisis that is being ignored,” DFT Interim President Ivy Bailey said, according to another Click On Detroit article. “We refuse to stand by while teachers, school support staff and students are exposed to conditions that one might expect in a Third World country, not the United States of America.”

The teachers’ organization has also spoken out about unreasonable class sizes and teaching conditions.

“I wouldn’t consider a classroom of 45 kids conducive to teaching and learning,” Western International High School parent Jaime Diaz-Herrara said in support of the sick out, in a DFT news release. “I wouldn’t say that a classroom with black mold creeping up the walls is conductive to teaching and learning. I wouldn’t say that roaches and rats scampering through hallways are conducive to teaching and learning. It’s disgusting, unsafe, unhealthy, and not the way we should be educating our kids in Detroit or anywhere else.”

Emergency Manager Earley, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder a year ago, says that the sick-outs will destroy his efforts to correct Detroit Public Schools’ financial situation.

“We understand and share their frustration. However, given the reality of the District’s financial distress, it is becoming clearer every day that the only way that we are going to be able to address these serious issues in any way is through an investment in DPS by the Michigan Legislature. Unfortunately, obtaining that support becomes more challenging with each closure of a school due to a teacher sick-out.”

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has asked the teachers to come back to work, but also has agreed to review the claims and tour the school district’s buildings along with the heads of the Detroit Health Department and the Detroit Buildings, Safety Engineering, and Environmental Department.

“I’m working as hard as I can, but you know, we’re dealing with a Republican governor, a Republican House and a Republican Senate, and I could work as hard as I can but at the end of the day the leadership in Lansing has to have the will to get this done,” Mayor Duggan said.

“I’m making a plea for the entire Detroit community to come together and to be the voice of children in Detroit,” Earley said as the sick-outs started rolling. “The time of nonsense is over.”

So far, the sick-outs have closed over 60 schools in the district and affected over 31,000 students, according to Detroit Public Schools’ officials.

At a rally that featured lawmakers, members of the Board of Education, and others, supporters of the sick-outs say that the conditions in the schools in Detroit simply would never be tolerated in suburban communities. They likened the conditions to that of third world nations.

Reports have indicated students face health problems such as mold, rodents, broken windows, lack of heat, broken floors, leaky ceilings, and standing water.

Tanya Baker, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, says it’s a violation of Michigan law for public employees to go on strike. Still, it’s uncertain if the protests over health hazards would fall under that law which defines a strike by public workers as the “concerted failure to report for duty, the willful absence from one’s position… for the purpose of inducing, influencing, or coercing a change in employment conditions, compensation, or the rights, privileges, or obligations of employment.”

Teachers could bring doctor’s notes, photographs, and other evidence, and fight any fines for striking which could potentially equal one day’s pay plus $5,000 for each full or partial school day for Detroit Public School teachers engaged in the sick-outs, according to the Detroit Free Press.

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