Sickout Rumors Abound, But Detroit Schools Stay Open

(Photo: Lori Higgins, Detroit Free Press)

(Photo: Lori Higgins, Detroit Free Press)

Although Detroit Public Schools were open on Monday, some teachers were being encouraged to stage “sick-out” protests as a way for teachers to express their objection to their working conditions, decaying facilities, and lack of appropriate funding. CNN’s Joshua Berlinger writes, however, that teacher strikes are illegal in the state.

“While some teachers did choose to call in sick today, that clearly was not the intention of the majority, as the rest of the district reported for work as normal,” said DPS Interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather.

“We appreciate teacher support as we work to improve the educational outcomes for all DPS students.”

A group of activists known as Equal Opportunity Now/By Any Means Necessary (EON/BAMN) published a press release on their website that acknowledged that sick-outs at some schools would take place, but the announcement did not call for any response on Monday.

“We are, however, looking ahead to a mass action in April as we continue our fight for strong, viable neighborhood public schools in Detroit,” it said.

On the Detroit Public Schools’ Facebook page, a post stated that the district was aware of the plans and encouraged teachers instead to meet with the Detroit Federation of Teachers, which is the organization that handles collective bargaining for teachers in DPS.

DPS is currently being sued by the teachers union in spite of the fact that the district has a debt obligation of hundreds of millions of dollars. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R), who is also embroiled in the Flint, Michigan water crisis, said in the annual State of the State address that the city’s schools were in crisis.

Last month, Darnell Earley, the city’s interim school system supervisor — who was also the 2013-2015 Flint emergency manager — resigned.

Matt Helms of the Detroit Free Press explained the sick-outs by stating opponents to the proposed state plans said on Sunday that two schools would be closed on Monday to object to Gov. Snyder’s decisions and to back local control of city schools.

EON/BAMN instructed teachers, students, parents, and anyone in support to gather at the Fisher Building in the city’s New Center area at 12:00 noon and walk down Woodward Ave. The group action was scheduled to take place on the anniversary of the crucial 1965 march from Selma, Ala. to Montgomery. The announcement was made by the ousted leader of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, Steve Conn.

Conn added that it would be difficult for the district to hire quality teachers in the future since the city is planning to change Detroit teachers’ retirement income from pensions to 401(k) plans. He said the city’s teachers already make less than other districts, and they also work under dismal conditions.

Teachers Union President Ivy Bailey told Jermont Terry of WDIV-TV that the union was not involved in the sick-out strategies and that the person who was encouraging the protests did not represent teachers. An overwhelming number of teachers said they would not be participating in the sickouts.

She continued by saying that the DFT and the union’s members are interested in finding solutions to the tremendous problems affecting Detroit’s school system. The union is looking for short-term and long-term financial security, local control, attaining the tools and resources needed by educators, and working on a quality education agenda.