Another teacher sickout closes some DPS schools

James David Dickson, and Kim Kozlowski

Detroit — A day after more than half of Detroit Public Schools were closed because of a teacher sickout, another wave of schools canceled classes for the day.

According to the district, 24 schools were closed, more than 20 percent of the district.

According to the district, the following schools are closed Tuesday because of teacher absences: Academy of the Americas, Bates, Bow, Burton, Carleton, Carstens, Carver, Coleman Young, Dixon, Drew, Gompers, Marcus Garvey, Mackenzie, Mark Twain, Palmer Park, Pasteur, Paul Robeson, Sampson, Spain, Thirkell, Thurgood Marshall, Turning Point and Vernor.

“Detroit Public Schools has no choice to close five schools this morning due to a high volume of teacher absences,” DPS spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski said in a statement Tuesday.

Sixty-four public Detroit Public Schools were closed Monday.

In a statement Tuesday, the interim president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers said district and state officials must address concerns about conditions in DPS school buildings.

“As frustrations by educators, parents and the community continue to mount over deep concerns about Detroit Public Schools’ deplorable health, safety and learning conditions, we need real answers from Emergency Manager Darnell Earley and Gov. Rick Snyder,” Ivy Bailey said. “The community is crying out for help over what is clearly a crisis in our schools. The DFT has called for public hearings to fully reveal all of the problems in every school and for Earley to announce how he intends to mitigate the issues. Our students and their families deserve real answers.”

Tuesday’s sickout means several DPS schools have seen at least two unexpected school closures since December related to teacher sickouts. According to Detroit News research, some schools have been closed for at least three days: Bates Academy (3), Dixon Educational Learning Academy (3), Gompers Elementary-Middle School (3), Detroit Collegiate Preparatory at Northwestern (2), Palmer Park Preparatory Academy (2), Bow Elementary-Middle School (2), Vernor Elementary School (2), Paul Robeson Malcolm X Academy (2), Spain Elementary-Middle School (2), Thirkell Elementary-Middle School (2), Cody Medicine and Community Health (2), Coleman A. Young Elementary (2), Burton International Academy (2), and Carver STEM Academy (2).

Besides building conditions and supply shortages, teachers are upset by large class sizes, pay and benefit concessions, and a state plan to create a new, debt-free Detroit school district.

DPS, which has been run by a series of state-appointed emergency managers since March 2009, has $515 million in past debts and unpaid vendor and pension bills.

Gov. Rick Snyder weighed in on the issue Tuesday, labeling the sickout “a concern.”

“What I would say is it’s really unfortunate because it’s coming at the expense of the kids. There are other venues and ways — if people have issues or things that they’d like to present — to do that. They shouldn’t be doing it at the expense of not having kids in class, and that is something that we’re carefully monitoring,” Snyder told reporters after touring the Detroit auto show Tuesday morning.

“If it continues, I’m sure you’ll see action at some point. But the goal is, hopefully, they’ll stop that, and they’ll find other mechanisms and ways to communicate what issues they may have — and not do it at the expense of children.”

Asked whether the solution might be legislation that better clarifies what constitutes “strike conditions,” Snyder said that could be something the Legislature eventually picks up.

“There’s already been some discussion about that in terms of interviews the press has done with legislators, and that could be a consequence of this continuing,” Snyder said.

Snyder added he supports Earley.

“He’s been doing a good job. He’s been working hard,” Snyder said. “If you think about it, our goal is to get the Detroit Public Schools to be successful. I’ve proposed a package that involves an investment of over $700 million to improve education in Detroit. I’m not sure why people would want to go out and protest against a solution like that come to Detroit.”

Snyder also said his office has had good feedback from both the state House and Senate on his proposal.

In response, Bailey said Snyder’s concern “isn’t enough.”

“The governor says he understands the frustration, but that isn’t enough,” she said in a statement. “A sufficient response to the Detroit Public Schools’ deplorable health, safety and learning conditions that are outraging educators and parents would be to address these issues and take action to mitigate the problems. The mayor and the state school superintendent are working with us on these issues; we need the governor’s help as well.”

Last week, five public schools in Detroit were closed because of sickouts, including at Cass Tech, Renaissance and Martin Luther King Jr. high schools. Teachers at another school, Wayne Elementary on the east side, attempted a sickout Wednesday, but the district was able to get the building staffed, according to a teacher who attended a Sunday night meeting of the Strike to Win Committee.

Steve Conn, the ousted president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, has been calling for teachers to stay home in protest.

“It’s great,” Conn told The News on Monday.

Conn was removed from office and expelled from the DFT in August by the union executive board, which found him guilty of internal misconduct charges, including illegal cancellation of meetings and failure to investigate abuse of members.

At a news conference Monday, Bailey and other union officials, teachers and parents expressed frustration about conditions in many DPS schools and called for public hearings.

Bailey said health and safety hazards include rat and other rodent infestations, crumbling walls, holes in ceilings, cracked sidewalks and broken boilers and no heat. She also said DPS has 170 teaching vacancies and that some special education classrooms have no textbooks.

The district has 46,325 students in its 107 school buildings. In fall 1999, Detroit Public Schools had more than 150,000 students enrolled and no budget deficit when teachers began the school year with a nine-day strike.

The district imposed no fines, and teachers got a 6 percent raise, phased in over three years, better dental insurance, and smaller class sizes in some schools, according to Detroit News archives.

Staff writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed.