A wave of teacher absences described by an activist as rolling strikes shut down more than half of Detroit's 100 public schools Monday, keeping thousands of students at home as the "sick-out" entered a second week.
A handful of high schools were forced to close last week due to teachers calling in sick. But the action Monday was more dramatic as a greater number of the district's roughly 4,000 teachers stayed home, forcing at least 61 schools to keep their doors shut on Monday.
The Detroit district with 46,000 students has been in turmoil, struggling with millions of dollars in debt, large class sizes, poor morale among staff and declining enrollment.
The protest is organized not by the city's teachers' union but by a group of activists calling themselves Detroit Teachers Fight Back. They said in a press release that their actions are to "shed light on unsafe and subpar learning conditions and demand resolution."
The school district is drowning under $3.5 billion of debt and needs to be rescued by the state of Michigan, according to a report released on Wednesday by Citizens Research Council of Michigan, a nonprofit public affairs group. The district has been under state oversight since 2009, but continues to struggle financially.
Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, has proposed to spin off a new school district and expand the number of charter schools, sparking outrage among teachers who want the city's schools to be run by an elected school board, not governor's appointees.
The Snyder appointee in charge of the schools, emergency manager Darnell Earley, said the teachers' mass absences make it "more challenging" to reach a political solution with the state.
The group Detroit Teachers Fight Back is calling for Earley's removal.
Ivy Bailey, interim president of the city's teachers' union, the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said in statements that teachers are getting blame rather than the support they need to help children.
She criticized Earley for failing to fix the district's crumbling infrastructure, cramming too many students in classes, failing to rid schools of mold and allowing electives such as art and music to disappear.
"The level of frustration has come to a head," Bailey said. "That frustration has led to the recent sick-outs for which teachers are now being criticized."
School officials anticipate reopening the closed schools on Tuesday. "We're hoping that teachers wouldn't keep students out of the classroom more than one day for a protest," district spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski said.
Al Jazeera and wire services