Surrounded by enlarged photos of health and safety hazards in the Detroit public schools, Detroit Federation of Teachers leaders and the faith community called the toxic conditions a "travesty" that is being ignored and causing understandable angst among educators, parents and the community.
A news conference was held Jan. 11 in front of A.L. Holmes Elementary School, which has mice running around, wet and peeling ceilings, and broken and cracked entry steps that have been mended with wood.
The DFT called for public hearings, where schools can describe their deplorable environmental and learning conditions that Emergency Manager Darnell Earley has long ignored, and where Earley can detail what will be done to mitigate the problems.
"The deplorable conditions in our schools have created a serious environmental and educational crisis that is being ignored," said DFT 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.
DFT Administrator Ann Mitchell said the union understands educators' frustrations.
"We understand the outrage and frustration that teachers and school staff feel. The conditions are a travesty. Rather than blame educators for expressing their frustration, it's well past time to fix the schools," Mitchell said.
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 Rev. Charles Williams said he is exasperated by the situation. "A great education is the gateway to a bright future for our children and our nation. Yet what are we saying to our families about the city's commitment to our kids and their education when deplorable conditions are willfully ignored?" Williams asked.
A few examples of current school conditions:
- Spain Elementary-Middle School—Black mold, the gym floor is buckling, the swimming pool is broken, the boiler has problems and the garden is unusable because of debris.
- Thirkell Elementary-Middle School—Not enough teachers, so eighth-graders are housed in the gym and pulled out for instruction in core subjects for only an hour or so each day. The ceiling is so compromised that rain and snow pour in. Teachers get just one prep period a month.
- Osborn High School—The building is literally falling apart.
- Moses Field School (for students with severe cognitive impairment)—Boiler is broken, causing drastic temperature fluctuations; infestations of rats, other rodents, roaches and bed bugs; and no security guard.
- •Palmer Park Preparatory Academy—Pieces of the ceiling are falling on kids' heads and rats run around.
- Jerry L. White Center High School—No heat, no security guard.
- Bates Academy—Security issues, mice, heating issues, computers are broken.
- Dossin Elementary-Middle School—Standing water in classrooms, holes in the ceiling, a classroom without power due to black mold in the wiring.
- Sampson Academy and Douglass Academy for Young Men—No heat.
- Ronald Brown Academy—A special education class has no textbooks; slimy growth on the walls and crumbling ceilings.
- Western International High School—Rats, roaches, not enough books, classes with 45 children.
- Golightly Education Center and Emerson Elementary-Middle School—Classes with 45 students.
- Mann Elementary School—Untrained teacher forced to administer medication to student suffering severe seizures.
[AFT press release]