Detroit Teachers Protest School Conditions

Dilapidated orange lockers

Detroit teachers are striking to protest low pay and the state of their schools.
Image: Shanti Hesse /

Teachers in Detroit’s public schools have had enough with the poor school conditions they confront every day. Large groups of teachers are calling in sick to work in a protest against the schools’ “deplorable conditions,” which boast a number of health concerns, like mold and dead rodents. The protests, or “sickouts,” have been occurring since the January 11. Detroit Public Schools were closed Wednesday because there were not enough teachers coming in to work.

“We felt it was time to take a stand. No more, enough is enough,” says Marietta Elliott, who teaches special education at Paul Robeson Malcolm X Academy. “We need better working environments for our students to be educated in. We need supplies to be able to adequately educate them, and we want equitable pay.”

What Elliott is referring to are the rats, roaches, and dilapidated structures of the buildings they work in. Teachers say they don’t have any textbooks or other supplies necessary to run a classroom, and none of them have seen a pay raise in at least ten years.

But Detroit Public Schools is fighting to keep schools open: An attorney with the organization filed an emergency court motion for a restraining order and preliminary injunction that would force teachers to stop the sickout.

The teachers want schools to return to local control. DPS has been under the supervision of several different state emergency managers for the past several years, during which time the education system has accrued crippling debt—more than 500 million. The current emergency manager, Darnell Earley, was the Flint, Michigan emergency manager until last year. His actions in that position have drawn heavy criticism.

Protesting teachers want Earley gone, and they want current governor Rick Snyder ousted. They are also angry about the restraining orders filed against them. “It would be so much more productive to actually do something to fix Detroit schools rather than file restraining orders against those who expose the miserable conditions,” says Ivy Bailey, Detroit Federation Teachers Interim President. “If Mr. Earley—the same emergency manager responsible for the Flint water crisis—wants to come after teachers, we’re ready for a fight.”

It is likely that more schools will be closed this week and into next week, despite the restraining order. Teachers want former Detroit Federation of Teachers president Steve Conn restored to his position, but it remains to be seen if Conn will be reinstated.

New legislation to be introduced next week could help the schools’ problems by splitting schools into two different districts: One district would pay the debt and one would operate the schools. The two districts would be managed by a school board created by the governor and the mayor.


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