Duggan unveils plan to inspect all DPS schools

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

The city late Wednesday announced it has launched a citywide inspection of all Detroit Public School buildings in response to complaints by teachers about health and safety problems.

The inspections, which began Tuesday at Spain Elementary Middle School, will be completed by the end of January in the 20 DPS school buildings believed to be most problematic, and all 97 of the district’s school buildings by the end of April.

Charter schools will be inspected as well, Mayor Mike Duggan’s office says.

The call for inspections came a day after Duggan toured several DPS schools with city officials in the wake of sickouts by teachers who have complained about building conditions, among other issues.

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Duggan vowed to seek immediate solutions to the “deeply disturbing” problems he observed in some of the schools, including a dead mouse on the floor of a classroom and students wearing coats in class to ward off 50-degree chill.

“This effort isn’t about blaming anybody,” Duggan said in a statement released Wednesday. “It’s about making sure that every child and every teacher in Detroit goes to school in a safe and healthy environment.”

The mayor on Tuesday engaged the heads of the Building, Safety, Engineering and Environmental Department and Detroit Health Department to begin immediate inspections.

If code violations are found, the building department will “take appropriate action to make sure that the violations are understood, along with the required repairs and the timeline for completing them,” the city says.

David Bell, director of the city’s building and safety department, says they strive to inspect boilers and elevators once per year in all schools. “Inspections for other maintenance-related issues have been done on an as-needed or complaint basis when issues are brought to our attention,” Bell said.

If any potential health hazards are identified during the inspections, the city’s health department also will investigate.

Teacher sickouts brought to light what teachers describe as intolerable and unsafe working conditions in many buildings. The mass absences forced DPS to shut down 24 schools Tuesday and 64 on Monday. On Wednesday, a handful of schools were shut down.

DPS spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski has said the district does its best to maintain schools that average 47 years of age. When employees raise concerns, the district investigates and addresses them “as quickly as we can,” she said.

On Wednesday, Emergency Manager Darnell Earley said in a statement that the district appreciates the city and mayor’s efforts to work in partnership with DPS to create a good working and learning environment.

“The school system will cooperate fully with the city and its inspectors,” he said. “The district welcomes any additional resources —financial or otherwise — that the city of Detroit can help us to identify to assist the district in addressing its building capital and maintenance needs.”

Duggan is also urging Detroit parents, teachers and students to report potential health and safety concerns on a new application on the city’s website, www.detroitmi.gov.

The form allows residents to report building problems such as heating and cooling issues, mold, structural issues, and electrical and fire hazards.

City departments will follow up with inspections based on public reports.

David Hecker, president of the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan, toured buildings Tuesday alongside Duggan and called the conditions unacceptable. He called on Gov. Rick Snyder, the Legislature and Earley to take action. Duggan has also said that Lansing needs to address the issues with urgency.

In a statement Wednesday, Ivy Bailey, interim president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, cited building conditions as a factor in the sickouts.

“Teachers are continuing to show their frustration because they have heard no response about the deplorable conditions in which DPS students and staff are subjected,” she said.

Abigail Adan, a parent with three daughters in the district, endorsed the city’s plan to inspect schools.

“There have been days some of the schools were closed or the children had early dismissal because of a heat problem, bathrooms needed repairs, electricity won’t working properly,” she said.

“There’s a leaky ceiling, pipes. Some rooms are too hot or too cold. It’s distracting the children from learning.”

The mayor has said that quick action is needed to fix up the district’s schools and revamp Detroit’s education system, which includes DPS, the state-run Education Achievement Authority and charter schools.

Snyder has proposed a $715 million plan that would create a new, debt-free Detroit school district and a commission to oversee the opening and closing of the city’s schools.

Legislation to restructure DPS could be introduced as soon as Thursday.

The governor this week defended his school reform plan and expressed support for Earley.

Duggan on Wednesday said Earley has assured the city that DPS will “respond promptly” to correct deficiencies found during the inspections and “we look forward to working with the district to resolve these problems.”


Staff Writer Candice Williams contributed.