Are Detroit schools unsafe? Mayor considers teachers' concerns

More than half of the city's public schools were forced to close on Monday, as teachers participated in a sickout to call attention to what they say are health and safety violations.

Kim Kozlowski/Detroit News/AP
A group of over a hundred teachers, joined by parents and children, protest Monday, in Detroit. A wave of teacher absences described by an activist as 'rolling strikes' shut down more than half of Detroit's 100 public schools Monday, keeping thousands of students at home as a so-called sick-out entered a second week.

The mayor of Detroit is set to tour schools in the district, following rolling teacher strikes and sick-outs that forced more than half of its 100 schools to close on Monday.

Mayor Mike Duggan will visit the schools with health and building officials to ascertain the conditions of the schools, after several teachers complained that facilities were infested with rodents and covered with mold. 

The teachers union, the Detroit Federation of Teachers, has not endorsed the sickout, but its interim president Ivy Bailey has defended the teacher's actions saying that she understood the frustration they felt, regarding the conditions of the schools.

“There are rats, there’s rodents, there’s dripping water, there’s holes. This is unacceptable. This is black mold. Our children are in that building breathing this day in and day out. This is third world,” The New York Times reports

Unlike most mayors, Mr. Duggan has little control over Detroit schools, which have been under state oversight and run by an emergency manager appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder for the past seven years.

Emergency Manager Darnell Earley condemned the sickouts and said that the “actions, caused by a minority of teachers, disrupt the efforts intended for those who can ill-afford to lose instruction time.” 

The sickouts and the subsequent closings have compounded the considerable challenges facing the district, including debt, insufficient benefits for teachers, and low standardized test scores.

Over the past year, Governor Snyder has taken steps to restructure the Detroit school system, but, so far, the legislature has been unable to reach an agreement. The governor's proposed plan for the schools would involve a $715 million state investment to offset the district's $500 million debt and to reorganize the entire system under a new name. 

In the meantime, Duggan said that his tour of district facilities would examine whether current conditions in the schools may be in violation of city building and health codes.

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

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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