As Flint struggles with its toxic water crisis, the Detroit Public Schools system is facing a major crisis of its own — and the two issues share a common link: The Detroit Public Schools’ emergency manager was formerly Flint’s emergency manager who had praised the decision to tap into the polluted Flint River for the city’s water source.
Teachers in Detroit have been protesting the deplorable conditions of their schools and on Wednesday staged their biggest “sick-out,” where teachers refused to work to bring attention to the matter. This forced 88 of the city’s 97 public schools to close, according to the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) Facebook page.
Some of the problems schools face include significantly overpopulated classrooms, leaky ceilings, mildew, broken heaters, warped floors, bugs and rats. In addition to the poor building conditions, teachers are also protesting cuts in salaries and increased health care expenses.
Like Flint, Detroit is also a majority-Black city, with 82.7 percent of its population being Black. This greatly contrasts with the overall population of Michigan, which is 14.2 percent Black, as well as the U.S. Black population of 12.7 percent.
The DPS requested a temporary restraining order be filed to prevent teachers from calling any further sick-outs. Among the damages were “students deprived of their right to attend school, students’ academic progress adversely impacted, waste of taxpayer money and parents forced to miss work.” A judge Thursday afternoon denied this request.
Darnell Earley, DPS emergency manager, said of the closings, “We have heard teachers’ concerns and identified short and long-term solutions to several key issues. It’s time for all of us to work together to ensure that there will be a school system in Detroit for future generations of the city’s children.”
He called the closings an “extreme disservice” to the students who were forced to miss school and said the sick-outs were “unacceptable” and “very unethical.”
But in the eyes of Flint and Detroit residents, Earley, who also served as the emergency manager in Flint beginning in 2013, is the one who’s unethical, not the teachers — beginning with his involvement in the water crisis.
According to an op-ed written by Earley, he did not make the decision to switch the water supply, and the plan “was approved by Flint’s mayor and confirmed by a City Council vote of 7-1 on March 25,” months before he was appointed emergency manager in October.
“It did not fall to me to question, second guess or invalidate the actions taken prior to my appointment,” he said.
But Earley, who made $180,000 a year in his emergency manager position in Flint, spoke out with high regard for the switch in April 2014, saying, “This is indeed the best choice for the city of Flint going forward.”
“The water quality speaks for itself,” he said.
With residents now facing the consequences of lead poisoning, which could result in severe and permanent health damage, the quality does in fact speak for itself.
The conditions in which Detroit students learn in on a daily basis also speak for themselves. People have used Twitter to post pictures of the schools, raising the question of, at the least, how effective the learning environment can be for these children and, at the most, how damaging this could be for Detroit’s youth.
— Ehsan Knopf (@EhsanKnopf) January 18, 2016
— Jelmer Evers (@jelmerevers) January 17, 2016
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton took to her Twitter account to speak out about the DPS protests.
“No one would tolerate these conditions in a wealthy suburb,” she tweeted. “Detroit students and teachers deserve better.”
The link between the water crisis and the dismal school conditions has not been lost on teachers, including Joel Berger, an English teacher at Cass Technical High School.
“Teachers, parents and students are just fed up with the injustices that are being done to our students,” he said. “It’s about Earley, who was the emergency manager in Flint when they switched the water over, and now he’s being charged with looking over Detroit Public Schools.”
And as Flint residents seek the resignation of Gov. Rick Snyder, citizens of Detroit are protesting for the removal of Earley, who now makes a salary of $225,000 a year while the DPS face a crippling $515 million in debt. The debt also resulted in 100 layoffs in the state of Michigan’s largest school district this year.
Snyder had hoped to introduce a solution to the debt problem before 2016 but has not yet even introduced a bill regarding a resolution to the legislature.