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Why did Detroit Public Schools bar union's inspectors?

The Detroit Teachers Federation had invited health inspectors to assess the harms of mold and water damage inside the schools, many of which are in poor condition. But the district denied them entrance.

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    Pasteur Elementary teacher Rochelle Hicks, of Southfield, and other teachers from Detroit area schools protest outside the Cobo Center, Jan. 20.
    Todd McInturf/Detroit News/AP
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The Detroit’s teachers union isn’t happy with the city’s public schools, after district officials barred the union's health inspectors from entering school grounds.

The Detroit Federation of Teachers had invited the environmental experts to check out possible health and safety concerns inside nine schools. The hygienists were brought in from New York, Washington, D.C., and Connecticut. They were prepared to document the conditions with photos, test for water leaks, and take mold samples.

"Prohibiting health inspectors to enter schools further erodes the trust of the school community. Rather than collaborating with people who just want to help make our schools safe, DPS is thwarting attempts to identify and fix the unsafe, despicable conditions," DFT interim president Ivy Bailey said in a statement Wednesday.

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According to a DPS spokeswoman, the district had to deny the inspectors entrance because the union did not provide it with enough advance notice.

"Additional teams of people in the school buildings complicate the District's efforts to fully comply with state and local regulations,” DPS spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski told the Detroit Free Press in an e-mail. “Further, the [union was] seeking to have teams of unknown individuals come into our school buildings without proper or reasonable prior notice to administration and staff."

The district has recently conducted its own series of inspections inside the schools, which have drawn widespread attention for their dismal conditions. In recent weeks, the teachers have staged mass “sick-outs” to protest the city’s negligence. As The Christian Science Monitor’s Stacy Teicher Khadaroo reports:

The pictures of Detroit schools infested with patches of mold and dead rodents, with crumbling buildings sporting leaky roofs and buckling floors, have horrified parents nationwide.

Those conditions, plus overcrowded classrooms, classes taught by uncertified teachers, and declining pay, have long been a concern for teachers. But because of the outrage over children in nearby Flint, Mich., being poisoned by lead-tainted water, the cries from Detroit are suddenly resonating with a wider, more responsive audience.

Ms. Bailey and her cohorts had initially praised the city’s efforts in responding to the health concerns. For instance, inspections in the district of Spain found 16 violations. But the union wanted even more specific details of the potential harms.

The DFT said it plans on filing an emergency motion in court to get the inspectors inside the schools.

"We just want to make sure our school stays [open], and is safe," Spain teacher WaSeana Ballard told the Free Press. She said over the last six months, it seems that more students have been sick with headaches and respiratory problems.

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