The crisis in Flint which has Michigan’s government looking everywhere for solutions is fueling demonstrations being staged by teachers in Detroit because one of the major actors in the Flint saga is the same person that is apparently driving seat the DPS crisis.
Detroit’s push for an empowering education has often been slowed down by mismanagement of resources backed by a 1999 state takeover of the school district, which has since left the Detroit school system in a deficit.
That deficit means inadequate learning materials for teachers, students subjected to poor learning conditions including the most recent discovery of roaches, rats and mushrooms in some school buildings forcing teachers to engage in the sick-out, demanding better conditions under which they can teach.
But the administration of the school district, led by emergency manager Darnell Earley instead decided to sue the teachers seeking a restraining order that would stop the teachers from continuing the sick-out which has already shut down more than 80 schools. Earley was also the emergency manager in Flint when residents started drinking lead-contaminated water from the Flint River. Because the state failed to alert the city of the environmental hazards of the water, citizens there have been left in an emergency situation where they are dependent on donations of water supplies.
In less than 48 hours after Earley and the DPS administration filed their suit against the teachers, the Michigan Court of Claims refused to grant the Detroit schools administration’s request for a restraining order. Judge Cynthia Stephens said the school district failed to meet the rules governing requests for restraining orders and set a date for a preliminary hearing on Jan. 25.
In protesting the filthy conditions of some of the schools buildings in Detroit, the teachers have been demanding the resignation of Earley after it was revealed that he was in charge of Flint when the environmental disaster began. Some have questioned why would Gov. Rick Snyder allow the head of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Dan Wyant to resign immediately in the wake of the Flint saga, and still keep Earley on the state payroll given his widely publicized role in the same Flint crisis?
DPS teachers are strongly motivated to continue the sick-out because of Earley. They are drawing the connection between what happened in Flint under Earley and the environmental challenges the school system is facing.
“The teachers of the Detroit Public Schools have decided to respond to the attacks on their wages, benefits, and working conditions by staging well-coordinated sick-outs. Through this protest they have shed much needed light on the deplorable conditions existing in Detroit Public Schools. They have forced politicians and the public to recognize that rodent-infected facilities with broken fixtures and failed heating and cooling systems is not a proper place to educate children,” said Detroit attorney Bertram Marks.
Marks said the teachers have forced bureaucrats to reassess whether the concept of emergency management is flawed to the point of a failed policy.
“On top of the frustration which comes from teachers being treated as second class citizens who should be lucky to be working under any conditions, the State of Michigan refuses to terminate Darnell Earley as Emergency Manager of Detroit Public Schools even though the facts are undisputed that he and…Snyder are responsible for poisoning thousands of Flint.”
The restraining order lawsuit that DPS filed against the teachers was strange enough in that it had the names and private home addresses of some of the teachers involved in the sick-out which could be seen as nothing more than an intimidation tactic.
“The publication of home addresses also raises the issue of whether privacy rights have been violated. Protective orders and sealed documents exist as a tool in litigation to prevent exposure of litigants which could prove dangerous,” Marks noted. “
The teachers view their actions as attempt to protect collective bargaining, the disenfranchisement of the poor as Flint has shown by forcing the state through its education emergency manager to institute needed changes in the district that ensure safe and clean environment that is conducive to learning.
As long as Gov. Snyder keeps Earley in place at DPS, nothing would seem to stop the frustration that is spilling over to the streets. It is not so much about the need for teachers to return to the classrooms since the sick-out will continue to have devastating impact on the district’s overall public reputation given that several schools have already closed. It is more so about the face of DPS, Darnell Earley, the man who once was in charge of Flint and the world saw what has become of Flint. This is the missing link in the coverage about the Detroit schools teacher sick-out.
Bankole Thompson, a longtime observer of Michigan politics, is a journalist and radio host based in Detroit who writes about the complexities of urban and race issues. E-mail [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @bankieT.