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Another DPS school closes for "sickout;" this time, it's Cass Tech

school hallway
Detroit Public Schools
Detroit Public Schools

One of Detroit’s top public schools was closed Tuesday, after too many teachers called in sick.

It’s just the latest in a string of “sickout” protests at Detroit Public Schools.

Teachers at Cass Technical High School say they staged the sickout because it’s the only form of protest they have in the district, which is run by a state-appointed emergency manager.

Cass Tech English teacher Dorothea Williams-Arnold says they’re protesting huge class sizes, stagnant pay, and skyrocketing health insurance costs, among other things.

“Those conditions make it very difficult not only for teachers, but also for the students, who deserve a lot better,” said Williams-Arnold, adding that a sick-out at a “high-profile” school like Cass was also a gesture of support for colleagues at schools with even fewer resources.

Uncertainty over the district’s immediate future is also a major concern and a drag on teacher morale, which Williams-Arnold describes as “absolutely low among DPS teachers as a whole.”

“I see some teachers kind of giving up. I see them losing their motivation to continue on because it’s exhausting,” said Williams-Arnold.

Without some kind of financial lifeline, DPS could run out of cash sometime early this year. Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Snyder’s call for a bankruptcy-like restructuring has gone nowhere with the state Legislature, leaving the district’s near future in serious doubt.

“We don’t disagree with people’s right to protest. However, what we do disagree with is when these protests take away instructional time from our students,” DPS spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski said in a statement about the latest sickout, adding that it sends a “terrible message” to students: “Students should not be taught that it’s OK to shirk their responsibilities, which is the message the teachers who call in sick – without truly being sick – are sending to their students.”

Zdrodowski added that DPS plans to review any “suspected abuses of sick leave,” with teachers potentially facing “appropriate discipline.”

Williams-Arnold said Cass Tech teachers went into the protest knowing that, as well as knowing they faced a potential larger backlash.

“When we make a statement, they say we’re shirking our responsibilities. But it just weighs on you,” she said. “We feel like we’re in a lose-lose situation.”

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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