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Education Opinion

Teacher Responsibility for Student Health

By Walt Gardner — January 15, 2016 1 min read

Whenever there is a threat of violence on campuses, most officials opt to close the schools until it is safe to reopen them. But what about the threat to the physical health of students? Shouldn’t it be taken as seriously (“ ‘Sickout’ by Detroit Teachers Closes Most Public Schools,” The New York Times, Jan. 12)?

In an action not authorized by their union, teachers in Detroit engaged in a “sickout” that resulted in the closure of 64 of the city’s 100 schools, affecting more than 31,000 of the district’s 46,000 students. The teachers did so to protest the vermin and the mold that are present in the buildings and the failure of school officials to address the problem.

Critics of public-school teachers are quick to accuse them of self-interest, to the detriment of students. But here is an example of teachers taking the matter into their own hands to protect the health of students. What they describe constitutes a clear and present danger to the health of all. Yet nothing yet has been done.

I can identify with the teachers. For the greater part of my 28-year teaching career in the Los Angeles Unified School District, I taught in a freestanding bungalow on the periphery of the school campus. The ceiling had waterstained tiles that hung precariously. There were rats in the ivy outside the bungalow, although they never entered while class was in session. I complained often but was told that I had to be patient because of the long list of far more serious problems.

I wonder what legal liability the district would face if parents threatened to sue after their children became sick? Often times exposure to such conditions does not manifest in disease until years later. The Third World conditions in Detroit’s schools may not be as dramatic as an emailed threat to blow up schools, but they are too serious to ignore. I salute the teachers who participated in the “sickout.”

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.