Nearly all of Detroit's public schools were closed Wednesday after teachers called in sick, en masse, to protest poor school conditions. The latest "sickout" comes a day after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's State of the State address, in which he did not directly address teachers' protests or school conditions.
Teacher absences forced about 88 of Detroit's public schools to close Wednesday, according to the Detroit Public Schools Facebook page. The extensive sickout was staged to coincide with President Obama's visit to Detroit on Wednesday, 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,' " she said. "We really need someone to help focus on the schools."
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who is scheduled to meet with Obama, has called teachers' complaints legitimate but wants them to return to school.
School district spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski says school closures aren't serving children. Wednesday's closures mean that "44,790 of the District's 46,325 students lost a critical day of instruction," she said according to the Detroit Free Press. "There were, however, nine district schools that stayed open today. We appreciate the teachers and staff at those schools for being in their classrooms and ensuring that their students are learning today."
The closures are the latest in a string of recent school closings caused by teacher sickouts. Last week, teacher absences resulted in three consecutive days of school closures.
The teachers say they are protesting classroom overcrowding, mold in classrooms, collapsing ceilings and dilapidated buildings, none of which was addressed in Snyder's speech Tuesday night, though the governor said that "Detroit schools are in need of a transformational change."
In discussing Detroit schools in his State of the State address, Snyder focused on the debt problem facing the district, which is expected to run out of money this spring. Snyder explained his proposed plan to split the school district into two parts, with one entity dedicated to educating Detroit's children and the other existing to address the school system's debt. Snyder also said he would be creating a "commission on 21st century education" to study what needs to be done to improve Detroit Public Schools. The commission's findings are expected later this year.
Though Snyder did not directly address poor conditions in public schools in Detroit, Duggan spoke on the subject last week. As NPR reported, he vowed to fix the most egregious building problems, saying: "I've seen some very well-maintained buildings. And I've seen some buildings that would break your heart."
The Free Press published a photo gallery of Detroit schools that shows boarded-up windows, broken heaters, bullet holes in walls, buckled floors and peeling paint.