The Conditions of Getting an Education
Without much thought, when a child becomes of school age, parents send them to an institutional facility to begin their public education journey. Without much thought, residents pay taxes that go toward children receiving a “free” public education. Without much thought, a parent’s expectation to the condition of the building in which their child receives their education is conducive to their learning. But things for Detroit Public Schools take more that just a passing thought. For teachers and students in Detroit Public Schools (DPS), they have tolerated working and learning under deplorable and dangerous conditions so much so that it couldn’t be ignored anymore. Teachers began to demonstrate by organizing sick-outs to draw attention to working conditions in the schools. For many, this was their only way of getting their voices heard because hitting the picket lines by striking is against the law in Michigan. Sick-outs are a loophole in the system. If striking is against the law, teachers calling in “sick” was their way of protesting and as a result, forced schools to shut down!
The problems could no longer be ignored. The Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) called a public hearing for educators to expose dangerous learning conditions. The DFT represents about 3,700 teachers, counselors and other staff. Detroit Public Schools has about 2,500 teachers, according to the emergency manager’s office. Flanked by large poster-size pictures of dangerous, deplorable and unhealthy conditions from a sample of Detroit Public Schools, educators hit the street. 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.
- 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.
- Western International High School—Rats, roaches, not enough books, classes with 45 children.
Shutting down more than half of Detroit’s 100 schools kept thousands of students at home as the sick-outs lasted for approximately two weeks. The impact was great. According to the Detroit Free Press teachers used rolling sick-outs not only to spotlight the poor conditions of dilapidated schools but, they’re also concerned about stagnant wages, super-sized classes and Gov. Rick Snyder’s controversial plan to divide DPS into two, creating a new debt-free school district.
Currently, DPS is in a financial budget deficit of $46.5 million. As the infographic points out, the student decline hurt the district tremendously. A drastic enrollment decline from 150,415 students during the 2003-2004 school year, to today, where enrollment is just over 46,000 students is a direct reflection on the city’s population loss. In 2000, nearly one million people lived in Detroit. Today that number is less that 700,000. It’s projected that the district will be out of money by April 2016. So is bankruptcy inevitable? Will the state come in and save the district? Whatever happens, those who will be affected the most are the students. The conditions of getting an education in the Detroit Public School system at this time are toxic, to say the least.