Detroit’s Cass Tech closed due to sickout

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Cass Technical High School is closed Tuesday due to a large number of teacher absences, Detroit Public Schools spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski confirmed.

Cass Tech, one of the largest public schools in Detroit, enrolls more than 2,400 students, according to the district. It is located on Second Avenue northeast of Interstate 75 and the Lodge freeway. The school became an international baccalaureate world school in August 2014.

“We don’t disagree with people’s right to protest. However, what we do disagree with is when these protests take away instructional time from our students,” Zdrodowski said in a statement. “To deny students their opportunity to learn in the interest of making a political statement should go against every principle a teacher holds important, and sends a terrible message to the very students to whom they are supposed to serve as role models...Students should not be taught that it’s OK to shirk their responsibilities, which is the message the teachers who call in sick — without truly being sick — are sending to their students.”

Dorothea Williams, an English teacher at Cass Tech, came into the teaching profession after working as an occupational therapist. But due to frozen salary rates, Williams said, she moonlights in her old field to make ends meet.

Williams, reached by phone, would not say whether she personally called off work on Tuesday, but did say “I absolutely support what’s going on.”

Williams said four of her five English classes have 40 students. The fifth has 30 students. She attributes overcrowding to understaffing. That, along with stagnant pay and costly health insurance, are among the issues concerning Detroit Public Schools teachers, Williams said.

“This is not a Cass Tech problem,” Williams said. “This is a Detroit Public Schools problem.”

Teacher sickouts resulted in several school closures in December, including Bates Academy, Mason Elementary, West Side Academy and Mackenzie Elementary-Middle School. District officials at the time sent “notices of investigation” to teachers thought to be involved in sickouts on Nov. 3, Dec. 1, Dec. 10 and Dec. 11, according to the Detroit Federation of Teachers, the union representing the district’s educators.

Zdrodowski added in an email to The News that “DPS has the right to review suspected abuses of sick leave. Any DPS teacher calling off on personal illness in connection with any reported ‘teacher sick-out’ will be subject to a review of their actions for appropriate discipline.”

Teachers have used the sickouts to express their anger over pay and benefit concessions and disapproval of Gov. Rick Snyder’s school reform plans. The governor has proposed paying off hundreds of millions of DPS debt under the existing school district, then creating a new district to educate Detroit schoolchildren.

The Detroit Public Schools have been under state oversight since 2009. Enrollment in the district has dropped 65 percent since 2005, according to a November 2015 report by the office of emergency manager Darnell Earley.

Williams said she hopes teachers aren’t villainized over today’s sickout.

“Drive by our school on any day at 6, 7 p.m. and you’ll see our cars there.” Williams said. “I love my job, but I want to have respect.”