Detroit teachers union sues to get crumbling schools repaired

The Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) and a long list of parents and students on January 28 filed a lawsuit asking a judge to compel the Detroit school district’s emergency manager to repair dilapidated school buildings that threaten the health and safety of Detroit’s public school students.

The lawsuit also asks the judge to require the emergency manager to create a capital fund that will fund upgrades to Detroit’s crumbling school buildings.

Finally, the suit asks the judge to return the school district to local control.

“Educators and parents have been raising the red flag for years about dangerous school conditions, only to be snubbed, ignored, and disrespected by (Detroit Public Schools) and the emergency managers . . . ,” said Ivy Baker, DFT’s interim president.

The lawsuit suit describes the deplorable conditions under which students, most of whom are African American, must learn and teachers must teach: Gaping holes in walls, fallen ceilings, rodents and their droppings in the halls and classrooms, swarms of roaches, black mold, unrepaired water damage to walls and ceilings, poorly maintain restrooms, and classrooms where students must wear coats to keep warm in the winter and where they swelter when it gets hot.

These conditions were brought out in the open by a series of sickouts carried out by teachers.

The sickouts began in December and picked up momentum in January. At their height, 88 of the Detroit’s 100 public schools were closed down.

The school district’s emergency manager Darnell Early asked a judge to issue a temporary restraining order to get DFT to end the sickouts, but the judge refused the request because the sickouts weren’t organized or sanctioned by DFT.

Instead, they were organized and carried out by rank and file teachers frustrated by the poor learning conditions in their schools.

A week after the judge refused to issue a temporary restraining order, the union filed its lawsuit in a Wayne County Court.

Detroit Public Schools (DPS) in 2009 was put under the control of an emergency manager appointed by the Michigan governor. Poor student performance and mismanagement that put the district in financial peril were the reasons given for taking away local control.

The emergency manager was supposed to improve academic performance and fix the district’s financial problems.

Since 2009, four people have served as emergency managers of DPS. None has been successful at either task.

The school district’s debt has increased since an emergency manager was appointed and academic achievement has not improved.

Early, the latest emergency manager, also was the emergency manager who oversaw the conversion of the Flint water system that rendered the city’s water undrinkable. He was appointed to both positions by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.

Like the water problems in Flint, Early and Gov. Snyder knew about the problems in Detroit’s school building before they were exposed to the public by the teachers’ sickout.

And like they did in Flint, they ignored the problems.

The lawsuit suggests that they decided to ignore the school problems school because the governor had other priorities.

“Under emergency management, DPS’ assets have been practically given away and its student body split amongst charter schools and the Education Achievement Authority (EAA),” reads DFT lawsuit.

EAA is Governor Snyder’s experiment in education policy. It’s a state board controlled by the governor that has taken control of 15 Detroit schools.

The EAA schools instruct students through the use programmed learning software developed by Agilix and the School Improvement Network (SNIP), two Utah-based companies.

EAA schools employ education facilitators to help students to navigate the software. Some of these facilitators are recent college graduates with no formal education training recruited through Teach for America.

EAA schools have been plagued by controversy.

E-mails between EAA officials and representatives of Agilix and SNIP show that they were using EAA’s Detroit schools as an experimental testing ground for the software in hopes that its numerous defects could be corrected. The companies then hoped to market the software more widely.

The software had proved to be ineffective in Kansas City where it was first implemented.

EEA touts the success of their schools, but Curt Guyette, an investigative reporter, reports otherwise:

“The most recent MEAP (Michigan’s statewide achievement test) results show that a high majority of EEA students are either stagnating in terms of math and reading proficiency, or falling further behind,” reads Guyette’s investigative report in Detroit Metro Times.

While Gov. Snyder’s EEA was experimenting with unproven education software, Detroit schools continued to crumble and its financial situation has continued to deteriorate.

According to the lawsuit, under Gov. Snyder’s watch, “DPS’ per pupil funding has dropped significantly. As a result, DPS’ fiscal emergency is worse than ever. After six years of state control, the annual budget deficit is larger this year than the last fiscal year that a locally elected school board governed the District.”

“DPS’ fiscal condition and administrative indifference has left facilities in disrepair,” continues the lawsuit.

After the lawsuit was filed, Bailey accused the state of bringing “the school district to its knees” and called for a return to local control.

“Detroit teachers should be commended for bringing these problems to light,” said Bailey. “They work so hard despite the poor conditions and make so many sacrifices to give their kids a great education.”

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