Nearly all of the Detroit Public Schools were closed on Monday and Tuesday because instructors called in sick en masse. It is believed that the “sickout” came after teachers found out they would not be paid for two months of work.
Last weekend, Detroit teachers learned that they would not be receiving paychecks for May and June. Reportedly, the cutbacks are necessary to plug the district’s $515 million operating debt. The district enrolls about 46,000 students in 97 schools, 94 of which are closed. The teachers held a rally on Monday outside the teachers union headquarters.
“There’s a basic agreement in America: when you put in a day’s work, you’ll receive a day’s pay. DPS (Detroit Public Schools) is breaking that deal,” says Ivy Bailey, the interim president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers. “Teachers want to be in the classroom giving children a chance to learn and reach their potential. Unfortunately, be refusing to guarantee that we will be paid for our work, DPS is effectively locking our members out of the classroom.”
According to the Detroit Free Press, the union has said that it will call for a permanent solution to rebuild Detroit’s public school system with local control, full funding, and the necessary academic resources. Unless Michigan’s state legislature approves more money for the Detroit school district, there will not be enough money in state coffers to pay teachers after June 30th. Thus, summer school and extended special education services would be cut.
Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican who has battled teachers unions previously, criticized the mass sickout. He claimed that the action impeded the chances of getting a rescue plan passed through the Republican-controlled legislature. “That’s not a constructive act with respect to getting legislation done,” he said. “That just probably raises more questions and challenges to legislators.” Governor Snyder’s criticisms were echoed by Michigan House Speaker Kevin Cotter, another Republican.
Reactions from the public flooded social media as the closing were announced on Sunday. According to reporters from The Detroit News, reactions from the public were mixed. Some commentators expressed support for the sickout while others voiced disappointment that the ongoing turmoil has affected their children’s education.
As reported by CNN, this is not the first “sickout” staged by Detroit public school teachers. In January, teachers reacted to dilapidated and dangerously unsanitary work conditions, including infestation and mold, by staging a sickout that forced the closure of dozens of schools.
Technically, a mass “sickout” is not considered a teacher strike, which is illegal in Michigan without prior approval. Some lawmakers have begun wondering whether the definition of what constitutes a strike must be tightened and clarified.
However, the teachers union says it had no other option but to act. “Although educators want nothing more than to be in classrooms helping our students learn and grow, the district has left us no choice,” DFT Executive Vice President Terrence Martin said. “We are calling for a universal sickout on Monday. While we recognize this puts Detroit’s parent community in a difficult situation, the district’s broken promises and gross negligence leaves us no choice.”
After having been assured that they will be paid after June, Detroit’s teachers have returned to work, reports Wall Street Journal’s Kris Maher and Ben Kesling. Tuesday’s sickout was the 14th day this year that some of the district’s schools have been forced to close, and the union is still considering a strike action before the summer months.