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7 DPS schools close for sickout

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

Seven Detroit Public Schools closed Thursday when too many teachers called in sick.

The “sick-out” is mostly a protest against Governor Snyder’s plans for the troubled district, which he wants to split in two and put through a bankruptcy-like overhaul.

But some teachers and education activists say drastic action is the only means they have left to protest health care cuts, chaotic conditions and continued uncertainty in the state-run district.

Nicole Conaway, a Detroit teacher and activist with the group By Any Means Necessary, blames long-time state control of Detroit schools for the problems.

“Until [that] root cause of this sickness is remedied, I think it’s going to continue to spread,” said Conaway.

“The real goal of Gov. Snyder’s plan is just to shut down public education in Detroit, and privatize it. And that’s just complete second-class treatment of the people of Detroit.”

But Conaway also calls this a wake-up call for the Detroit Federation of Teachers.

The union has splintered recently, with some teachers favoring a strike and more drastic action, while the DFT has taken a more cautious approach.

It also recently ousted controversial President Steve Conn, and its executive board approved an American Federation of Teachers trustee takeover.That arrangement starts next week.

Conaway said teachers involved in the sick-out are resisting that. “They’re determined to assert the will of the membership as the highest authority of the union, and organize independently,” she said.

The sick-out, the second one this month, affected nearly 4,000 students. DPS emergency manager Darnell Earley called it “truly unfortunate.”

“DPS has the right to review suspected abuses of sick leave. Any DPS teacher calling off on personal illness in connection with any reported ‘teacher sick-out’ will be subject to a review of their actions for appropriate discipline,” Earley said in a district statement.

Gov. Snyder took to Twitter to express his displeasure. “We must focus on kids,” he said in one tweet. “Many students access social services through their schools. How many are missing help today because of sick out?”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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