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DETROIT January 12, 2016– If the story of Gov. Rick Snyder and his Emergency Managers’ botched handling of the Flint water crisis wasn’t enough for you, now the governor and his Emergency Manager of the Detroit Public Schools are being exposed for the brutal conditions to which they’re subjecting Detroit’s students and staff.
Darnell Earley, who previously served as Flint’s EM and is responsible for coordinating the infamous transfer of the city’s water to the Flint River, is currently serving as Gov. Snyder’s appointed Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager.
Teachers there are demanding this week that the district clean up the deplorable conditions found in many Detroit schools, while Earley continues to dismiss them by accusing them of “using students as pawns to advance a political position.” He has also called the teachers’ actions “unethical.”
For the past two days, Detroit teachers have called in sick, forcing the closure of over 60 schools, and bringing to light school conditions that union leadership has described as “third world.”
“The deplorable conditions in our schools have created a serious environmental and educational crisis that is being ignored,” said Detroit Federation of Teachers (AFT Local 231) Interim President Ivy Bailey. “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.
“The children of Detroit, Flint or any other community should not be exposed to atrocious, environmental hazards.”
Bailey said health and safety hazards include rat and other rodent infestations, crumbling walls, holes in ceilings, cracked sidewalks, dangerous broken boilers and no heat. Poor teaching and learning conditions include overcrowded classrooms, 170 teaching vacancies, special education classrooms with no textbooks, minimal preparatory time for teachers, and lack of nurses resulting in untrained teachers forced to give medication to student suffering seizures. And there is the perpetual issue of treating long-suffering but hardworking educators unprofessionally with poor salaries and benefits. She noted that the conditions have gotten worse over the six years of state emergency management control.
The governor said yesterday that the teachers calling in sick “at the expense of the students, I don’t believe is appropriate.” He said he would be happy to have “his team” go through an analysis, but teachers say they’ve asked the state for help, and nothing has been done to address the health crises, such as potential black mold in numerous schools.
Jaime Diaz-Herrara, a parent of a student at Western International High School, said the public expects schools to provide education in an environment conducive to teaching and learning.
“I wouldn’t consider a classroom of 45 kids conducive to teaching and learning. I wouldn’t say that a classroom with black mold creeping up the walls is conductive to teaching and learning. I wouldn’t say that roaches and rats scampering through hallways are conducive to teaching and learning. It’s disgusting, unsafe, unhealthy and not the way we should be educating our kids in Detroit or anywhere else,” Diaz-Herrera said.
The teachers held a rally yesterday to bring attention to the situation. From the Detroit Free Press:
Among the teachers participating [in the rally]: Theresa Williams, a first-grade teacher at Burton International Academy, who held a sign that said, “I have 39 first-graders in my classroom.”
“It’s quite challenging,” Williams said. “You want to meet the needs of all of the children. You have to do the best you can.”
Pam Namyslowski, a veteran fourth grade teacher at Mann Elementary, took to Facebook last week to directly address Emergency Manager Darnell Earley with an open letter. The post has been shared more than 6,000 times:
You described the actions of protesting teachers as “unethical”. I’m curious, then, how you would characterize the learning conditions of the children of Detroit Public Schools that have existed for years. These deplorable learning conditions happen to also be the teachers’ working conditions. We deal with unsafe environments – both in the neighborhoods surrounding our schools and often within the schools themselves. Unlike you, students and teachers do not have a driver and security guards. Students who travel to and from school pass numerous abandoned, dangerous buildings and have been robbed, assaulted, and raped. Teachers have been victims of violent crimes and have had their vehicles and personal property damaged and/or stolen, sometimes repeatedly… I’m wondering where the concern and outrage over that has been? …
You called upon the mayor, the city council, the clergy of Detroit to “be the voice of the children.” Mr. Earley, rest assured there is no one in this city, other than the parents, who care more about the education, happiness, and well being of the students of Detroit Public Schools, than we teachers do. We ARE their voice. We are on the front line, working side by side with them every day, trying our best to overcome numerous obstacles. In the winter, we often work with them in freezing rooms with our coats on. In the summertime, we survive with them in stifling heat and humidity in temperatures that no one should have to work in. We wipe their tears and listen when they are upset. We send food home with them. We encourage them to persevere and to be hopeful about their futures. We celebrate their successes. We comfort them when they experience loss and tragedy. We give up time with our own children to support our students, who we also consider our children. We spend our own money to buy not only learning materials, but things such as uniforms, hand soap, sanitizer, and Kleenex.
You accuse us of drowning out the voices of our students. You stated we are “using students as pawns to advance a political position.” You have it backwards. The children of Detroit HAVE been used as pawns. Their voices have indeed been drowned out. But make no mistake, this has not been done by the teachers. Educational decisions are now being made by politicians. Schools are being run like businesses. We have been vilified by these politicians. We have been made accountable for things we have little or no control over…We have been set up to fail in every way.
The recent action of teachers is not an attempt to drown out the voices of the students. It is an attempt to finally make their voices heard.