Detroit Public Schools (DPS) are in a mess, and teachers are taking to social media to document the deplorable conditions and decaying buildings.
The scenes repeat all over this Michigan city: building tiles hang from rafters, decorative glass inserts are missing in spots, heat thrives on one side of the structure, cold on another, and the stench from masses of mold waft in the air. No, these aren’t spoilers from a blockbuster film; this is the learning environment students report to daily in Detroit schools. To the rescue: Detroit Public School teachers.
Randi Weingarten is the president of Chicago-based American Federation of Teachers, a teachers union. She recently visited with Principal Latoya Hall-King of Detroit Institute of Technology College Prep High School. Her meeting and tour of the district comes on the heels of a mass teacher sickout where as many as 70 instructors banned together to protest the dire situation.
Detroit teachers are posting photos on social media to get better conditions for their students https://t.co/PHw1rB47RC
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) January 16, 2016
During her meeting with Hall-King, the enormity of the problems with Detroit’s public schools was evident: above the principal’s head, spots were bare where 15 ceiling tiles once called home. Moreover, the office was a balmy 90 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to below-freezing temps outside.
“We have a boiler that needs to be fixed. But it’s very expensive with a cash-strapped district.”
The gut-wrenching story appeared on Detroit Free Press, which sparked a raging conversation on Reddit. There, readers chimed in on the reported working and learning conditions in the city’s public schools.
— Karen Ellis (@kmusso29) January 16, 2016
One reader brought up a dilemma many affected Detroit Public School teachers are likely facing. It highlights the delicate lines teachers walk daily: keep quiet, don’t stir the pot, and hope things improve — or lift their voices and risk possible retaliation.
“Unfortunately, many of these teachers will probably get reprimanded or fired for doing this, thereby compounding the problem by having fewer teachers.”
Another commenter believes the problems Detroit Public Schools are facing begin at students’ homes — with parents sewing the foundations of discipline. The reader shared their outrage about the current crisis.
“The problems really start at home, parents just don’t give a f**k or can’t give a f**k because they have 3 jobs paying $7 an hour trying to raise 3 kids by 3 different dad’s that either don’t know they are a father or bailed. It’s really sad.”
Still, another reader had, perhaps, the most radical response to the ongoing struggle with administrators and public school teachers in Detroit. Simply put, they suggested a covert and insidious scheme is at play that deliberately seeks failure of public district schools — with profit as a motive.
“I know it might be tinfoil hat territory, but I’ve been wondering if there’s a plot among some politicians to screw over the public education as much as humanly possible in order to pave the way for it to be destroyed and entirely privatized. Taking away funding, encouraging people to complain about the crappy conditions/results of public education, using that to pull even more funding away, pointing out that private education is so much better because the government can’t do anything right, etc.”
Weingarten expressed remorse about the plight of many schools under the purview of the DPS. She points to the systematic failure of the bureaucracy charged with providing a safe working and learning environment for teachers and students.
“This is an abandonment of children. It’s a travesty.”
Sadly, the scenes repeat from one school property to another. Others have computers, but no internet access, while a large number of schools are no longer showing signs of post-war prosperity. One even bears the scars of bullet holes from a drive-by shooting.
Reportedly, Detroit teachers have spoken out for years about aging equipment and buildings that fall below safety standards set forth by state, federal, and local laws.
Teachers have taken to social media to document their concerns. Many say their previous complaints fell on deaf ears. And while buildings continue to age, and students are forced to learn in atrocious conditions, finger pointing is underway.
Detroit’s mayor, council members, and state legislators are split over the root cause. Some say the situation is being blown out of proportion, which all complaints are responded to immediately.
Detroit Public Schools emergency financial manager Darnell Earley issued a statement after the public’s outcry, saying the average school building is 47-years-old.
“To the extent that areas of concern are called to our attention, we remediate the issue based on the resources available. In every case where an issue has been brought to our attention, we have responded in as timely a manner as possible.”
Sadly, the teachers who’ve taken to social media said they count on the “goodness of strangers” and other community resources like churches. As some agree, in many cases, despite their poor pay, teachers do the job because they love children and bear the responsibility of educating the next generation of leaders and great thinkers.
The good news — if it’s any consolation — is the City of Detroit said it would inspect all public schools by April and “enforce compliance where violations were found.”
It’s unclear if this will solve the decades-long crisis, but it’s a start — and Detroit Public School teachers are leading the charge.
[Image via: Twitter/CBS News screenshot]