Detroit Sickouts Close Nearly 100 Schools, Teachers Say Buildings Are Hazardous

Detroit sickouts closed nearly 100 schools on Wednesday, as teachers are demanding a healthier and safer working environment. According to reports, educators and their students are being exposed to asbestos, mold, rodent infestations, and dangerous structural damage on a daily basis. In an effort to raise awareness, the teachers called in sick en masse, forcing the city to close nearly all of its public schools.

The issues are outlined in a Detroit Federation of Teacher’s petition, which was posted at and has gained more than 11,600 signatures. When the petition reaches 15,000 signatures, it will be delivered to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Detroit’s Emergency Manager Darnell Earley for consideration.

“For too long, Detroit students and educators have been learning and teaching in deplorable conditions. From serious health and safety hazards… to classrooms with no heat, these unacceptable conditions have been ignored… Enough is enough… It’s time to fully fund Detroit’s public schools. Our students deserve nothing less.”

Union representative Lakia Wilson said health and safety hazards are not the only concern. The students’ educations are also at stake, as the school district does not have enough funding to provide necessary textbooks and essential programs like art and music.

Although government and school officials agree the situation is dire, it all comes down to ever-increasing debt and a perpetual lack of funding.

CNN reports Senator Geoff Hansen presented the Michigan Legislature with a proposal last week, which is designed to alleviate some of the issues.

Hansen’s proposal includes forming a second public school district within the city of Detroit. The newly-formed district would oversee the schools, and students, that are currently part of the Detroit Public School system.

Although the current Detroit Public School system will remain intact, it will continue to operate in name only. Essentially, the debt will remain with the former system and will be paid off with tax revenue.

Each year, the Detroit Public School system receives approximately $7,400 in funding per student. However, a large portion of those funds is applied toward the district’s outstanding debt of $515 million.

Separating the schools from the debt will allow the schools to receive more funding — and to spend that funding on vital improvements.

Although the plan seems plausible, skeptics are concerned the Detroit Public School system will eventually cease to exist.

Following Detroit’s first sickout, which occurred on January 11, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan ordered professional inspections for all buildings in the public school district. Duggan expects all inspections to be completed by May.

Wednesday’s sickout coincides with the Detroit auto show, which is being visited by President Barack Obama. Although the president will have lunch with Mayor Duggan, educators want to make sure the men discuss the critical issues facing the school system.

Educators participating in Detroit’s sickout used the time to raise awareness at the auto show. In addition to passing out flyers, the teachers asked participants to sign the petition.

Unfortunately, Detroit is not the only Michigan city facing a serious crisis.

Within the last two years, a disturbingly high number of children in Flint, Michigan, were diagnosed with lead poisoning. The issue was eventually traced to the city’s tap water, which residents were assured was safe.

Although the city switched from their own water supply, back to Detroit’s system, it was simply too late. Officials are still warning residents against consuming or using tap water, as “lead levels remain well above the federal action level of 15 parts per billion in many homes.”

It is unclear how long Flint’s water crisis will last, as the city’s entire water system may be contaminated.

Detroit’s sickout is being criticized by government and school officials. However, educators insist it is necessary to raise awareness.

[Photo courtesy of Will Fisher via Flickr| Cropped and Resized | CC BY-SA 2.0 ]

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