Sunday, January 31, 2016

More Than 100 Photos of Mice, Leaks and Poor Conditions at Detroit Schools Accompany Lawsuit
Photographic exhibits filed in a lawsuit against Detroit Public Schools include images of rodent carcasses, wet, often moldy conditions caused by leaks, fallen ceiling tiles and other safety hazards at various school buildings. The teachers union and several parents filed the lawsuit in Wayne County Circuit Court on Jan. 28, 2016, claiming Detroit children are being denied a "minimally adequate education," and calling for the removal of DPS Emergency Manager Darnell Earley. (Tanya Moutzalias | MLive Detroit)

Tanya Moutzalias |
Khalil AlHajal | By Khalil AlHajal |
January 29, 2016 at 10:30 AM, updated January 29, 2016 at 3:39 PM

DETROIT, MI -- Teachers and parents who sued Detroit Public Schools on Thursday have gathered more than 100 photographs as evidence of poor school conditions to accompany their lawsuit.

The exhibits include images of dead mice, wet and moldy conditions cause by leaks, fallen ceiling tiles, exposed wiring and other safety hazards at various Detroit schools.

The photos can be viewed in the above gallery.

The lawsuit, filed in Wayne County Circuit Court by the American Federation of Teachers, the Detroit Federation of Teachers and several parents of children in the district, claims students are being denied a "minimally adequate education."

"Our children deserve better. They're going to get better, one way or another," said Shoniqua Kemp, a parent of two Detroit kids and a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit calls for the removal of Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, who is the fourth appointee to run the district since the state took control of Detroit Public Schools in 2009.

Earley said Thursday that it's up to the state legislature to solve the problem of disrepair in Detroit schools, referring to a plan proposed by Gov. Rick Snyder to have the state pay off the district's debt, and to relaunch Detroit's school system as a new entity.

But the plan would likely cost other school districts around the state, and hasn't gotten much support in Lansing.

"The investment of these funds will be necessary to implement a badly needed, districtwide long-term capital improvement plan," Earley said. "Meanwhile, we continue to address those matters that have been presented in the inspection reports from the City, and have been made aware of through our work order system, through a corrective action plan that provides available resources for these repairs."

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan earlier this month ordered inspections of all Detroit school buildings after teacher's began protesting.

The inspections confirmed severe problems with rodents, mold, heating and structural problems, and the school district announced that it would initiate immediate remedies for certain violations, while working with state regulatory officials to address larger issues.

Union officials said Thursday that the lawsuit was intended as a way to ensure, through the courts, that the building the problems are addressed.

"What we assert is that when you have ceiling tiles falling from the ceiling," said AFT lawyer Bob Fetter, "when you have mold in the air, when you have steam coming from your mouth when you're in the classroom because your classroom is freezing, that, amongst the other issues -- vermin-infested rooms, that is not a minimally adequate education."

A severe case of mold that could affect air quality was discovered under a gym floor during during the city's inspection of Spain Elementary School, where "evidence of vermin infestation, including fecal matter and carcasses," were also noted by inspectors.

Christopher Robinson, another Detroit parent and plaintiff in the lawsuit, said the mold problem at Spain may have only recently been brought to public attention, but was apparent for years.

"That floor's been like that for at least four years," he said. "You can't make this stuff up."

Earley, who took over the district in January 2015, said he's done what he's been appointed to do by balancing the district's structural budget, and that it's up to the state to approve funds to address the district's burdensome long-term debt, projected at $550 million.

"The focus of my work has been on preparing DPS for long-term financial sustainability and a return to some form of local control," Earley said in a statement after the lawsuit was filed.

"My team and I have worked hard to develop and implement a comprehensive restructuring plan that has taken a financially broken educational system and transformed it into one that, but for its long-term debt, has eliminated it structural budget deficit. This is evident from the District's FY2015 audit report, which documents the fact that if the annual $56 million in debt payments were resolved, the District would be able to operate within its projected revenues."

The austerity measures and resulting poor school conditions have angered teachers, students and parents, who have been staging protests for weeks, at times forcing schools to close due to widespread, coordinated teacher absences.

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