Detroit teachers’ sick-out

From the January-February 2016 issue of News & Letters

Detroit—Schoolteachers in Detroit began a sick-out on Monday, Jan. 11, closing 60 schools and idling 47,000 students, around 85% of the district population. Their actions give the lie to state-imposed Emergency Manager Darnell Earley’s claims that only a tiny fraction of “radical” teachers is hindering his efforts to improve the Detroit Public Schools.

Monday’s rally of several hundred teachers sent Michigan Governor Snyder a message, with chants like “Detroit won’t go to the back of the bus! Public education is a must!” and “Dirty buildings, dirty food, dirty politics!” Signs read: “My kindergarteners are better listeners than Governor Snyder” “Standing up 4 my students!” “I love my students” and “Enough is enough!”

 

Photo by Tanya Moutzalias | MLive Detroit.

Photo by Tanya Moutzalias | MLive Detroit.

The reasons Detroit teachers got so sick and tired include this description of their classrooms: “Mice, rats, leaking ceilings falling in large chunks, black mold on the walls.” Classrooms are designed for the contractual maximum of 25 to 34 students, but often hold 40 or more. There are supply shortages, antiquated and broken technology, and inexperienced young teachers assigned to teach classes out of their subject area.

Adding insult to injury were two 10% pay cuts in the past decade, and greatly increased healthcare costs. There is no local control: Public Act 436 disempowered the elected school board.

Students whose schools were closed were not deprived of education. They had the opportunity to learn that the fight is ongoing and that true power is collective power guided by the ideas of freedom and dignity.

—Susan Van Gelder

One thought on “Detroit teachers’ sick-out

  1. Since this article was printed, Darnell Early, the Emergency Manager appointed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, has resigned. He had been just supoenaed by Congress to testify about the Flint water crisis (because he was the Emergency Manager there while the state ignored people’s protests about the brown, foul-smelling water since 2014).

    But enough about him. What is really exciting is the explosion of creative actions the teachers have been developing. The State of Michigan is trying to frame the rolling teacher sick-outs as an illegal strike. So the union, which until the mass actions had seemed destroyed by infighting, has garnered parents to conduct “walk-ins.” Beginning today they entered schools to continue to pass out information about school conditions and are rallying tonight for repealing Public Act 436 which placed Detroit Public Schools (DPS) under the aforementioned Emergency Manager. Since DPS is expected to be broke by April, hearings in the state capital, Lansing, are being held today on the Governor’s proposal to split the district, placing the ELECTED board in charge of paying off the district debt ONLY, and creating a Detroit Education Commission with an APPOINTED board to oversee ALL schools in the city, public, private and charter, and would operate the public schools. Residents support the teachers’ actions to demand better pay, working conditions and local control.

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