All DPS schools open despite sickout threat

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Detroit — All Detroit Public Schools are open Monday despite warnings of sickouts closing at least two buildings, according to the district.

“All schools are open today,” officials wrote on the district’s Facebook page. “Happy Spring!!”

The news comes after the leadership of the Equal Opportunity Now/By Any Means Necessary pledged that Bow and Mason elementary schools would be closed. The group said the closures would highlight their opposition to Gov. Rick Snyder’s plan to fix the district’s schools.

The group describes itself as a national teachers caucus supporting a return to local control of the district.

According to ousted Detroit Federation of Teachers president Steve Conn, “we need to act now before (Gov. Rick) Snyder’s new anti-DPS legislation goes any further.”

A noon rally is planned Monday at the Fisher Building along with a march along Woodward Avenue. Also Monday, the DFT scheduled a press conference to provide updates on how the union is addressing potential solutions to the district’s struggles.

“As this is a critical week in Lansing and Detroit, DFT leaders will discuss the union’s activities and what we hope to accomplish,” officials said in a press release.

The press conference is scheduled for late morning at the DFT office on Second Avenue in Detroit.

A series of sickouts in November through January was triggered by health and safety issues in some schools and led the district to a consent agreement with the city for a timetable for fixes. Many repairs at the 26 schools have been made. Those sickouts resulted in a lawsuit filed by DPS aiming to stop the school closures due to the sickouts.

The Michigan House on Thursday approved sending emergency aid to Detroit Public Schools, which had warned it faces payless paydays by April 8 without an infusion of cash. The $48.7 million will pay employees through June 30 from the state’s tobacco settlement fund. The bill is one in a proposed legislative package for a broader financial and leadership fix for DPS. But debate continues over Gov. Rick Snyder’s $715 million, 10-year plan to alleviate DPS debt and create a new debt-free district for 46,000 students and expand the duties of Detroit’s Financial Review Commission could veto the district’s budget and hire and fire a superintendent.

The bill now heads to the state Senate.

DPS’ new emergency manager Steven Rhodes said the district was aware of Monday’s events.

“We would encourage anyone concerned about these potential actions to contact the Detroit Federation of Teachers, which is the recognized bargaining unit for teachers in the district, to get their official response/reaction to this threat of school closures,” he said in a statement Sunday, which was posted to the school district’s Facebook page.

“The district has been encouraged by the positive movement in Lansing over the last week to approve supplemental funding that would allow DPS to continue educating its more than 46,000 students through the end of the school year, and to not only bring critical resources back to our classrooms, but also return the district to local control through the passage of broader education reform legislation.”

Conn balked at the Lansing developments.

“The new bill puts DPS permanently under the thumb of the (city’s Financial Review Commission) — that’s an entire team of emergency managers,” he said in a statement. “Even with an elected school board, the commission will have the power to unilaterally cut budgets, slash teacher pay and health care, close DPS schools ... Contract negotiations will be a joke!”

He also said the new bill is a major blow to the economic stability of the state teacher retirement system.

“DPS new hires will be placed in a 401(k), so contributions to the pension fund will decline fast,” he said. “It will also be harder for our public schools to recruit new teachers, further hurting students’ education and putting even more stress on the remaining staff.

“Snyder was embarrassed before the entire country this week in Washington,” he said, apparently referring to Snyder’s appearance before the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week, where he and Environmental Protection Agency head Gina McCarthy received scathing criticism for their handling of the Flint water crisis.

“Now is the time for us to fight and win! Delaying until April means accepting defeat — maybe the worst ever! We can beat Snyder, but we must act quickly.”

Meanwhile, interim Detroit Federation of Teachers president Ivy Bailey described Monday’s event as a “supposed sickout.”

“It’s critical that everyone knows the facts about a supposed sickout on Monday and where the Detroit Federation of Teachers stands,” she said. “Unfortunately we have to respond to someone who does not represent teachers. The Detroit Federation of Teachers, which represents and speaks for Detroit Public Schools teachers and other school staff, does not support a sickout.”

She added that when she heard rumors about a sickout Friday, the DFT leaders talked with educators in every school, and the overwhelming majority said they did not want to participate in a sickout Monday.

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