Teachers in Detroit Public Schools have participated in multiple “sickout” protests to raise awareness about deplorable conditions within many buildings in the financially distressed district, causing about 60 schools to cancel class on Monday, January 11 as well as a handful of closings on other days over the past week. Extreme heating and cooling problems, leaky roofs, water-damaged floors, pest infestations, and other building problems prompted teachers to take action. According to a CNN article, the “sickouts” have already yielded results, as teachers report some repairs taking place promptly after the recent round of protests.
Some Republican legislators in Michigan, such as State Senator Phil Pavlov, are working on a law that would classify such “sickouts” as strikes, and enforce punitive measures as severe as taking away a teacher’s certification for participating in them, according to a story from Michigan Public Radio. While the school closings are certainly problematic, it begs the question of whether state government’s focus should be on stopping the “sickouts” or the unacceptable conditions that triggered them.
On that note, Governor Rick Snyder is proposing legislation that would use state funds to cover Detroit Public Schools’ massive debt. If passed, this intervention would, presumably, have a significant impact on the issues raised by the protesting teachers. However, there is some controversy about the long-term viability of the district even after this intervention, primarily centered on the large number of charter schools now operating in the city. Previous versions of the proposed bill included the creation of an authority that would govern over all public schools in Detroit – both district and charter – but that element, which met resistance from Republican legislators and the charter school lobby, is not included in the latest proposal.