Parents get creative to keep kids busy during sickouts

Candice Williams, and James David Dickson

Two days of Detroit teacher sickouts had Patrina Riley on her toes: She had to alter plans and all but home school her daughter, Kahlia, 9, to make up for the lack of classroom time.

On Tuesday, Riley had some good news. Teachers would be paid this summer, possibly ending any further protests and keep Kahlia and other district children in school.

“I’m really pleased with this,” she said after learning at a meeting of the Detroit Parent Network that the district and educators had reached an agreement to keep paying them. “I hope it’s a consistent decision. I hope, moving forward, it’s positive.”

Teachers began their sickout Monday after worries they wouldn’t be paid past June 30, when district officials say DPS will run out of money. Teachers who collect paychecks year-round would have missed four of them over summer vacation.

Tuesday afternoon teachers got the assurance that they would indeed be paid in a letter Detroit Federation of Teachers received a letter from Emergency Manager Steven Rhodes.

Riley, who has regular doctor’s appointment, said she has had to take Kahlia with her or find a babysitter on the days classes were canceled. She also created lessons for her daughter.

“We go online and we create assignment such as writing, social studies just as if I have to homeschool,” she said of the work she assigned to Kahlia, a fourth-grader at McKenny Elementary, which closed during the sickouts.

In spite of the inconvenience, Riley said she supports the teachers.

“I don’t blame the teachers,” she said. “This is about our government in Lansing. They’ve got to do something now.”

The DFT said it was urging teachers to return to work Wednesday after the guarantee of pay, which the union called a partial victory Tuesday amid other issues still to be addressed.

“We feel we got what we asked for,” said Ivy Bailey, the union’s interim president.

Roquesha O’Neal was pleased the sickouts could end. When classes were canceled, she was the babysitter for her two nephews who attend AL Holmes Elementary.

“I have to change my schedule,” said O’Neal, a board member for the nonprofit Excellent Schools Detroit. “As a parent organizer, that means I’m at home. With the kids there I have to cancel my meetings. ... I have to also play the teacher.”

LaMethia Champion had a different take on a day off from classroom work. Two of her children visited the Detroit Institute of Arts Tuesday with some of their classmates from Cass Technical High School.

“This is a learning process in and of itself,” Champion said of the district’s issues. “I take every event as a learning experience for my children. I don’t believe that they are not being educated because they’re not in the classroom. Parent are the first educators.”

Tanisha Murray was one of the lucky parents maneuvering through the teacher sickouts for a second day.

As a homemaker, she doesn’t have to scramble to cancel work or hire a babysitter when classes are canceled in the state’s largest school district. She just has to plan enough activities to keep her fourth-grade daughter, Julia, busy.

Those plans included attending rallies in support of district teachers.

“I want my daughter to see that DPS teachers are very important people in teaching you the material you need to go to the next level,” Murray said. “They are due their pay. They work hard with students all day long, and they need to get paid what they deserve.”

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