Teacher ‘sickout’ forces DPS to close three schools

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Three Detroit Public Schools were forced to close Tuesday after teachers did not show up for classes in what supporters called a sickout.

The district confirmed the schools were Mason Elementary, West Side Academy and Mackenzie Elementary-Middle School.

Detroit Public School teacher Nicole Conaway speaks out about the issues at Detroit Public Schools as three schools in the district were shut sown due to a sickout on Tuesday December 1, 2015.

Nicole Conaway, an instructor at East English Village Preparatory Academy, said teachers staged the sickout Tuesday to “take a stand” against Gov. Rick Snyder’s school reform plans.

“Those are the most determined and courageous teachers to stand up and say, ‘no more business as usual,’” she said during a news conference with supporters. “And this sickout is contagious and is going to spread.”

About 15 people, including students, gathered in front of the Detroit School of Arts to discuss Tuesday’s absences. But after a short time, DPS police officers asked the group to move away from the school at 123 Selden St.

The group moved to the corner of Selden and Cass, then crossed to the opposite corner when police walked toward them. Officers remained nearby.

Students carried signs with messages such as, “Cure to Snyder Flu: A strike to win,” “Stop Snyder’s Plan to Destroy Detroit Public Education” and “Stop Snyder’s Plan to Destroy Detroit Public Schools.”

The governor has proposed paying off hundreds of millions of DPS debt, which would be left with the existing school district, and creating a new district to educate Detroit schoolchildren.

DPS has been under state control since 2009 and teachers have faced pay cuts, higher health care costs and larger class sizes.

Conaway also said the sickout was carried out Tuesday to mark the 60th anniversary of Rosa Parks’ refusal to give her seat at the front of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, to a white man.

Parent Donya Scott, whose two daughters attend Detroit School of Arts in the ninth and 11th grades, said she supported the teachers.

“I think it’s pretty cool and I give them a thumb’s up,” she said. “We need DPS because this is where it all started. I don’t think the students are getting enough education as it is.”

Detroit School of Arts student Markeith Jones, 17, says Detroit Public Schools students support teachers at three schools who staged a sickout to protest reform ideas proposed by Gov. Rick Snyder.

Markeith Jones, 17, a senior at DSA, spoke for students gathered at the press conference.

“Teachers did a sickout because they were fed up with everything that’s happening and coming down from a racist governor and an emergency manager whose only goal is to destroy our schools,” he said. “Students are tired of back of the bus treatment and not being given the resources we need. We’re ready to stand in solidarity with teachers taking action.”

In a statement, DPS Emergency Manager Darnell Earley called the teachers’ action “seriously misguided.”

“This unfortunate turn of events, orchestrated by a very small minority of the good and dedicated employees of DPS, is seriously misguided and directly harms our students — taking away a day in the classroom that they cannot afford to miss,” he said. “While the majority of our teachers are focused on their students today and every day, it is truly unfortunate that so many of that same minority, who profess to be dedicated educators, have decided to participate in this action given its unjustifiable and inexcusable consequence.”

Earley concluded: “This does absolutely nothing to further our collective efforts, nor to meet our goals over the next six months of becoming a solvent and sustainable school district governed under any form of local control.”

Conaway responded to the district’s statement, saying, “It is the policies under the emergency manager and Snyder that negatively impact students every day by being understaffed, under-resourced and overcrowded.”

Conaway is an ally of Steve Conn, who was removed as the president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers in August by the union’s executive board, which found him guilty of internal misconduct charges. DFT interim president Ivy Bailey did not respond Wednesday to messages seeking comment.

Conn attended Tuesday’s gathering but did not address the group. In answer to a question, he said he thought the sickout’s success in closing three schools was “great.”

“And we’re going to close more very soon,” he said. “We are determined to defend public education by any means necessary.”


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