Kim Kozlowski / AP

Detroit mayor to tour schools with ‘deplorable conditions’

Health and safety concerns have led city teachers to conduct sickouts and rolling strikes that have shut down schools

Detroit's mayor will tour some of the city's public schools amid sickouts by teachers that at times have forced some schools to shut down.

Mayor Mike Duggan will visit the schools with city health and buildings officials on Tuesday morning after complaints from the district teachers union that some have black mold or fungus growing, while others are infested with rodents.

At least two-dozen Detroit public schools were closed Tuesday as a result of the sick-outs, which teachers have undertaken to protest pay, large class sizes and the poor school conditions, among other things.

The Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) is not part of the sickout, but union officials complained Monday about conditions in the schools after about half of them had to close because of a wave of teacher absences described by an activist as rolling strikes.

"This is why those sickouts happened," the union's interim president, Ivy Bailey, told reporters while displaying photographs of mold in schools. “The deplorable conditions in our schools have created a serious environmental and educational crisis that is being ignored. We refuse to stand by while teachers, school support staff and students are exposed to conditions that one might expect in a Third World country, not the United States of America,” Bailey said.

“The children of Detroit, Flint or any other community should not be exposed to atrocious, environmental hazards," he added. The DFT listed examples of the toxic conditions in a press release Monday, in which it called for public hearings on the "dangerous learning conditions." 

At Spain Elementary-Middle School, teachers said there was black mold, a buckling gym floor and a broken swimming pool. Bates Academy teachers reported mice, security issues and broken computers. At Ronald Brown Academy, a special education class had no textbooks, there was a slimy growth on the walls, and ceilings were crumbling. 

Unlike some mayors, Duggan has no control over the city's public schools. Detroit's debt-ridden district of 46,000 students has been under state oversight for nearly seven years. The district is run by an emergency manager appointed by Republican Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.

But the city can inspect the school buildings to make sure they comply with city codes.

"Based on what we find, the city of Detroit will take whatever enforcement action is necessary to make sure all Detroit public schools are compliant with all health and building codes," Duggan said in a press release.

He said he understands the teachers' frustrations but urged them to return to work. He also urged state officials "to move quickly to address these pressing educational problems."

The district's emergency manager, Darnell Earley, said in a statement that officials "understand and share" the frustrations of teachers but that the teacher absences make it "more challenging" to reach a political solution with state lawmakers.

To the union, that was tantamount to blaming teachers instead of addressing the problem.

”Perhaps the emergency manager is engaged in this deflection because he knows that the DFT has ramped up its efforts to address the many urgent concerns that educators and members of our community have about the deplorable conditions in schools around this city," DFT administrator Ann Mitchell said in the release.

"Detroit’s public schools bear the scars of the city’s struggles and challenges. We can’t do this job alone, and we urge all Detroiters to call on officials to make high-quality public education a top priority.” 

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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