Around 60 schools in Detroit, Michgian were shut down earlier this week as a result of teacher sick-outs during a rally organized in an effort to make district leaders take note of what they refer to as horrible teaching conditions.
Teachers in the crowd chanted “Detroit kids matter,” while others held signs letting the district know that they are upset. “Thirty-five is the speed limit, not a class size,” said one. “Students support DPS teachers,” said another.
Theresa Williams, a first-grade teacher at Burton International Academy, was one of the participating teachers holding a sign stating that her classroom size was 39 students large.
“It’s quite challenging,” Williams said. “You want to meet the needs of all of the children. You have to do the best you can.”
Also among those in the crowd were state lawmakers, members of the City Council and members of the Detroit Board of Education. Councilwoman Mary Sheffield spoke to the crowd, telling them she was on their side and that silence was no longer an option.
In all, 64 schools in the district were shut down for the day after over half of their teachers called out sick, affecting close to 31,000 students. The total number of schools closed was almost half of the schools in the entire district, more than was expected by the rally organizers. Indications suggest that more sick-outs are to come throughout the week.
Health and safety problems within school buildings topped their list of concerns, although health care, salary cuts, and large class sizes remain additional issues for teachers in the district. Teachers described a number of issues including mold, leaking ceilings, broken windows, rats, cockroaches, and non-working heat and standing water, writes James David Dickson for The Detroit News.
A statement was issued by Mayor Mike Duggan after the rally asking teachers to return to their classrooms while at the same time saying he had received reports of “substandard conditions” within school buildings.
Duggan added that he had plans to visit some of those schools later in the week with the heads of the city health department and the city department of buildings, safety, engineering and environment.
“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,” Duggan said.
A news conference earlier in the day saw officials from the Detroit Federation of Teachers asking for public hearings to allow teachers a chance to speak. Ivy Bailey, the interim president of the union, said the situation was worse than they had thought and compared it to being in a Third World country, writes Lori Higgins for The Detroit Free Press.
“We want the teachers voices to be heard,” Bailey said. “We know there’s an issue with money, but you know what? We need to do something. It’s time for all of us to come together.”
Bailey added that while the union does support the teachers and their concerns, it does not support how they went about raising awareness.