DETROIT (AP) — Mayor Mike Duggan said he saw a dead mouse, children wearing coats in cold classrooms and a gym floor too warped for play during a tour of some Detroit public schools Tuesday, amid a teacher sick-out that has forced dozens of buildings to close.
Duggan pledged to quickly come up with a plan to improve the condition of the buildings.
The teachers’ union has complained about mold, rodent infestations, too-large class sizes and other issues. Teachers upset about their pay, the district’s financial condition and work environments called in sick Monday, forcing the cancellation of classes at 64 schools.
“Our children need our teachers in the classroom. … But there’s no question about the legitimacy of the issues that they’re raising,” Duggan said Tuesday, when about two dozen schools were closed because of the sick-out.
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More than 31,000 students stayed home Monday. School district spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski said the number of children affected Tuesday wasn’t immediately known.
Unlike some big-city mayors, Duggan has no control over schools. Detroit’s debt-ridden district of 46,000 students has been under state oversight for nearly seven years. The 100-school district is run by an emergency manager appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.
But the city can inspect the buildings to make sure they meet code requirements. Duggan said the condition of schools is a “mixed bag,” with some in good shape.
“We’re still gathering information and we’ll have a plan” Wednesday, he told reporters at Fisher school on the city’s east side.
“We’ve seen a couple of school buildings that are well-maintained and then saw some conditions that were deeply disturbing, including a school where the children have no gym class because the gym floor is buckled from roof leaks,” Duggan said.
He said it was “heartbreaking” to see some kids wearing coats in the morning until classrooms warm up by lunch.
The governor has called for the state to commit $715 million over a decade to address the district’s $500 million debt and relaunch the district under a new name. But his plan has yet to receive support in the legislature, which is controlled by fellow Republicans.
During a visit to the Detroit auto show Tuesday, Snyder called the sick-out “really unfortunate.”
“There are other venues and ways if people have issues. … They shouldn’t be doing that at the expense of having kids not in class,” the governor said.
But Snyder understanding teachers’ frustrations “isn’t enough,” Detroit Federation of Teachers interim President Ivy Bailey said Tuesday.
“A sufficient response to the Detroit Public Schools’ deplorable health, safety and learning conditions that are outraging educators and parents would be to address these issues and take action to mitigate the problems,” Bailey said in a statement. “The mayor and the state school superintendent are working with us on these issues. We need the governor’s help as well.”
The union is not part of the sick-out, but union officials have been vocal about school conditions.
Zdrodowski said “there’s no denying” that some schools need attention, adding that problems are investigated as soon as possible. Nonetheless, she said, the district is troubled by the wave of teacher absences.
“We’re investigating all of our options. Kids need to be in school,” Zdrodowski said.
The Detroit Parent Network, a nonprofit that aims to improve parental involvement in education, is surveying district parents about the school closings, chief executive Sharlonda Buckman told The Associated Press. It is also hosting a discussion with parents on Thursday.
“We want to make sure parent voices don’t get lost in the crossfire,” Buckman said.
Associated Press reporter Jeff Karoub contributed to this report.