Jacques: Where’s the outrage over DPS teacher strikes?

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

I don’t know about you, but I’m outraged by the recent string of teacher “sickouts” in Detroit.

Because let’s be honest. Teachers at these schools haven’t suddenly come down with the plague. They are striking, pure and simple. Which is illegal in Michigan, by the way. Calling in sick just makes it harder for Detroit Public Schools’ officials to discipline these teachers.

Yet I can’t understand why parents and other community members aren’t protesting these teacher demonstrations. Where is their outrage? Where is the outrage from students? Where is the frustration of other Detroit teachers who do put the interests of their students first?

This week, three of the largest — and reportedly best — schools in the city have had to close due to these sickouts.

“They aren’t thinking about the kids,” says DPS spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski. “Every day of education matters. When that protest harms kids, parents should be outraged. That’s a missing piece in all this.”

The week started out with the closure of Cass Tech High School. And then on Thursday, two more schools — Renaissance and Martin Luther King Jr. high schools — had to shut their doors because not enough teachers showed up to work.

In December, teacher sickouts closed several other schools, impacting thousands of students.

Similar school closures also happened last spring, as teachers took field trips to Lansing to protest Gov. Rick Snyder’s plans for financially stabilizing the district.

These protests stem from the agitations of a few loud members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers. The Detroit teachers union has undergone major internal struggles. Last year, newly elected president Steve Conn got himself fired from his position by other union leadership because of their distaste for his extreme antics.

He didn’t go quietly and has tried several times to get reinstated. Interim DFT President Ivy Bailey got so frustrated she had to call in help from the national office. Now, an administrator with the American Federation of Teachers is running daily operations.

But even with that additional assistance, Conn’s faction of teachers is still out of control. He remains bitter that he was ousted, and is delusional enough to think there is still a chance he’ll get his post back.

Conn, a high school teacher in the district, is closely associated with the radical group By Any Means Necessary, and he and his supporters live by that name. Conn has it out for Gov. Rick Snyder and DPS Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, and he’ll do anything to fight them. He has even irrationally protested the recommendations of the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren, which is co-chaired by his boss, AFT-Michigan President David Hecker.

The teachers claim to be protesting overly full classrooms, low pay and reduced benefits. And while those are unfortunately realities within DPS right now, the district is on the brink of insolvency. The state is going to have to get involved.

But with lawmakers already hesitant to engage in the Detroit schools mess, seeing teachers misbehaving won’t make them eager to ship huge sums money to DPS.

“How are we supposed to get the legislation to help us if we can’t run our own house?” Zdrodowski asks.

That’s a good point. District officials are looking into options for punishing striking teachers, but the union contract makes the process tedious — even though state law clearly states offending teachers can be fined or fired. It’s also an administrative headache.

In the meantime, if this behavior continues (and it likely will), the Legislature should consider a future for Detroit schools that doesn’t include the teachers union.