Detroit ‘Student Sick-Out’ Marks Count Day Funding Protest

DPS

A number of parents in Detroit Public Schools district kept their children home from school on Count Day in an effort to protest problems within the district.

The event, referred to as a “student sick-out,” was organized by a group of parents from a number of schools in the district.  It is unknown how many students participated in the day, although students at least seven schools took part.

One church in Detroit is offering an alternative school during the day.

Count day is one of the two days of the year that school officials will look at attendance in the district in order to better determine the amount of state aid the district will receive.

“It’s kind of a shock-value thing to the district, to show them that the parents know more than they give us credit for,” said LaMethia Champion, the mother of two children at Cass Tech High School.. “(Until now), the parents’ voices have not been heard.”

State aid is given to school districts based on enrollment, paying particular attention to the number of students in attendance on the second Wednesday in February and the first Wednesday in October.  The February numbers count for 10% of all aid offered to the state, while October counts for 90%, writes Ann Zaniewski for The Detroit Free Press.

The sick-out was spread over social media under the handle @wethestudents16, a Twitter account used by around half a dozen Cass Tech students, as well as through the hashtag “#WeTheStudents.”  According to 17-year-old senior Natalya Henderson, students held a rally in Cass Park at noon.

Meanwhile, parents and community leaders held a “Freedom School” for area students at the First United Methodist Church in Detroit.  Retired teachers came to the building to provide lessons in subjects that  have been taken out of district schools due to budget cuts, including art, black history, music, and gym.  Breakfast and lunch were included, reports Roop Raj for Fox 2.

Teachers in the district have previously used sick-outs to bring attention to poor building conditions, low wages, overcrowded classrooms, and concerns pertaining to pending education legislation.

However, the recent sick-out by students may not have quite the effect on state aid that they hoped it would.  State law notes that students with an excused absence can be counted as long as he or she returns to school within 30 days of the absence.  The same holds true for children with unexcused absences who return to school within 10 days.

At the same time, a legislative hearing continues in the district concerning the DPS financial crisis.  Parents, activists and teachers are making a push for local control to be returned to the district.  The 46,000-student district has close to $3.5 billion in debt and has been run by state-appointed emergency managers since 2009.

State Treasurer Nick Khouri said that bankruptcy would not be a good option for the district, adding that doing so would cost $75 to $100 million and that they will have “lost control of the solution and the next steps.”

The hearings will continue through the following week, after which a committee will vote on the bills.