Most Detroit Public Schools Close Due to Teacher 'Sick-Outs' Demanding Better Classroom Conditions

Detroit teachers held "sick-outs" in protest of crowded classrooms.

January 20, 2016, 11:47 PM

— -- A city-wide teacher "sick-out" shut down 88 Detroit schools today, causing 44,790 students to miss class, according to the Detroit Public Schools system.

Teachers held the sick-out in protest of run-down buildings, large classroom sizes and issues with teachers' compensation and benefits, stemming from the school district's financial crisis, Detroit Federation of Teachers Administrator Ann Mitchell told ABC News today.

"Due to a high volume of teacher absences, the following schools will be closed today," the DPS wrote on its website before listing the majority of its schools. A mere eight schools remained opened, DPS announced on Facebook.

Staff members at the closed schools were expected to report to work or take a leave day, the announcement said.

Dozens of activists marched in front of Detroit's convention center in protest of the current state of the public school system Wednesday afternoon, the Associated Press reported. The demonstrations started, the same day President Obama visited the city to speak about the economic progress of the American auto industry.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan called for teachers to stop staging sick-outs and return to their classrooms while legislatures work on solving the city's debt problems. Earlier this month, more than 60 schools were closed due to teacher absences.

Teachers are "frustrated" with Detroit's public school system, Mitchell said, adding that due to budget constraints, teachers' paychecks have been cut by up to 10 percent and the cost of their health care packages has risen.

The tipping point for the teachers' frustrations are the conditions of the dilapidated school buildings and the "bulging" classrooms, Mitchell said. Sometimes students must resort to sitting in windowsills due to the lack of desks, and classes are often held in gymnasiums.

"We’re talking about 45 fifth graders in one room," Mitchell said.

The schools' buildings have gone into "total disrepair," Mitchell said, mentioning classrooms festered with rodents, mold and leaky ceilings.

"Some rooms are so hot because of faulty furnace systems that students can’t think." she said. "While on the other side of school, it’s so cold that they’re keeping their coats on."

Michelle Zdrodowski, executive director of DPS Communications, acknowledged in a statement that employees have "sacrificed a tremendous amount over the last eight years."

"We can't thank them enough for their hard work under very difficult circumstances," Zdrodowski said. "However, students need to be in the classroom learning."

DPS has been working to "develop viable solutions to issues that can be immediately addressed" since last week, Zdrodowski said, calling today's sick-out a "political stunt" that won't help solve the school district's "serious issues" or improve students' educational experience.

"Closing schools for reasons such as today and on previous dates further jeopardizes the limited resources the District has available to educate its students and address the many challenges it faces," she said.

DPS Emergency Manager Darnell Earley called the closing of the schools "truly unfortunate" and an "extreme disservice" to the thousands of students affected.

"We have heard teachers’ concerns and identified short and long-term solutions to several key issues," Early said in a statement Wednesday. "It’s time for all of us to work together to ensure that there will be a school system in Detroit for future generations of the city’s children."

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said in Tuesday night's state of the state address that Detroit's school district debt needs to be restructured so that the $1,100 spent per student toward the debt can be re-allocated to classroom resources.

"Detroit schools are failing at the most basic fundamentals of education: teaching children," Snyder said.

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