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Detroit mayor confirms teachers' concerns about unsafe schools. What now?

Detroit teachers, who are protesting 'inhuman' school conditions, appreciate Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan's sympathy. But they care more about getting the Michigan governor's attention. 

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    Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan addresses the media, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016, outside Fisher Magnet Lower Academy in Detroit, after talking with school administrators and Detroit Public Schools officials about the condition of the school. The visits occurred while two dozen schools were closed because of a sick-out by teachers who are upset about pay, class sizes, rodents and mold.
    Jose Juarez/Detroit News via AP
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In response to a teacher “sick-out” protest that cancelled classes at 64 schools Monday, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan toured Detroit public schools Tuesday to survey conditions and see what all the fuss was about. 

Mayor Duggan told reporters that some of the conditions were “heartbreaking.” Duggan was shocked to see a dead mouse, a water-buckled gym floor, and students wearing coats in cold classrooms while on his tour. 

“If the ceilings are falling down, we sweep up, go back to business as usual,” Ellen Morgan, a 2nd grade teacher at Spain Elementary Middle-School, told WXYZ Detroit. She says that poor conditions have been disrupting classrooms for a long time, but the state of Detroit’s schools has now become intolerable. Teachers say their protest is called a “sick-out” for a reason. 

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“The conditions in this school are inhuman, deplorable, dilapidated,” Detroit teacher Lakia Wilson told WXYZ Detroit. “It’s not healthy. We are literally sick.”

So what’s next? 

“Based on what we find, the city of Detroit will take whatever enforcement action is necessary to make sure all Detroit schools are compliant with all health and building codes,” Duggan said in a statement. 

And while teachers say Duggan’s interest is appreciated, they add that progress requires Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s attention, too.

“A sufficient response to the Detroit Public Schools’ deplorable health, safety and learning conditions that are outraging educators and parents would be to address these issues and take action to mitigate the problems,” Detroit Federation of Teachers interim President Ivy Bailey said in a statement. “The mayor and the state school superintendent are working with us on these issues. We need the governor’s help as well.” 

Unlike most mayors, Duggan has little control over Detroit schools, which have been under state oversight for the past seven years, The Christian Science Monitor reported Tuesday. While under state jurisdiction, the schools have been run by an emergency manager appointed by Gov. Snyder. 

Ms. Bailey says Detroit teachers, students and parents “need real answers” from Governor Snyder. Snyder has proposed a $715 million plan to renovate the Detroit school district, but no relevant legislation has been introduced.   

And instead of touring schools like Duggan, Snyder has openly criticized the sick-out. 

“It makes it more challenging because it begs the question… What are the teachers doing and how do they care about the kids when they don’t show up?” Snyder told the Detroit Free Press Tuesday. The number of school closing in the Detroit district have decreased every day this week, with more than 60 closings Monday, about 35 Tuesday and then an estimated five Wednesday. 

But the teachers say they are calling for better work environments for not only themselves, but also for the children. 

“… No child in Detroit should have to learn under such conditions,” David Hecker, president of the American Federation of Teachers - Michigan, told The Detroit News. 

“Do you know how long we’ve been dealing with these conditions? Because we’re in it for the children,” teacher Kimberly Jackson told WJBK Detroit. “Because where I want the children to be in the classroom learning. We haven’t taken off. We’ve been there for them.” 

Fellow teacher Zachary Sobert added, “I believe my kids deserve better than what they have.” 

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