Wednesday, January 20, 2016

On Day of Obama's Visit, Most of Detroit's Public Schools Close Amid Teacher Sick-out
Tribune wire reports

Most of Detroit's public schools closed for the day on Wednesday due to teacher absences, as disgruntled educators stepped up efforts to protest the governor's plans for the district, its ramshackle finances and dilapidated buildings.

The massive sick-out was timed to coincide with a planned visit to the city by President Barack Obama, Detroit Federation of Teachers spokeswoman Ann Mitchell told The Associated Press.

"People couldn't miss the opportunity for us to say, this is what's happening and we really need help," Mitchell said. "We really need someone to help focus on the schools."

Detroit Public Schools said more than 85 of its roughly 100 schools were shut. On Tuesday night, a group advocating for change at city schools known as Detroit Teachers Strike to Win warned of closures and said protests were planned Wednesday.

Mayor Mike Duggan has called for teachers to stop staging sick-outs and return to their classrooms while state legislators work on solving the district's financial crisis, saying, teachers' "frustrations are legitimate, but the solution is not to send the kids home."

Duggan and White House official Cecilia Munoz met with the media at a local eatery after the mayor gave Munoz a tour of some city neighborhoods. The mayor had met Tuesday with Detroit's delegation in the Legislature to work out their strategy on trying to improve conditions in the schools, which he says "are only getting worse. Lansing needs to act."

Gov. Rick Snyder again pushed state lawmakers on Tuesday night to pass bills to overhaul the school district by splitting it in two, spending more than $700 million over a decade, warning of a potential bankruptcy. Already, the district is run by an emergency manager appointed by the Republican governor.

Teacher and activist Steve Conn said in a statement that Snyder is "attacking public education in Detroit."

Obama plans to visit Detroit with a tour of the North American International Auto Show to highlight progress in the city and the auto industry.

The district said it has no choice but to close schools when teachers don't report to work. It said those who don't call in sick still were required to report to their buildings Wednesday.

Detroit has about 46,000 students. More than 60 schools were closed Jan. 11 because of an absence of teachers. Other sick-outs affecting a smaller number of schools have taken place as well. In response, city officials have started inspecting schools for possible code and safety violations.

 Detroit schools

Pam Barnes, right and Asher Huey, of the American Federation of Teachers walk by some missing ceiling tiles while touring Osborn Collegiate Academy of Mathematics Science and Technology in Detroit, to look at some of the poor conditions that have prompted sick-outs by Detroit Public School teachers. (Romain Blanquart / Detroit Free Press)
The number of schools closed Wednesday indicates that more teachers are joining the sick-outs.

"This movement has grown, and I think it has grown among the teachers themselves," Mitchell said. "We were not encouraging people to go out today, but people are feeling it's the time now to do big actions to show what they're feeling."

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