Teaching Profession

Detroit Teachers and District Settle Work Conditions Lawsuit

By Emmanuel Felton — January 25, 2017 2 min read
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Detroit teachers and the city’s fledgling school district have settled a year-old lawsuit over the city’s crumbling school buildings. The lawsuit garnered national attention with its harrowing details of the conditions the city’s students and educators face: rodent- and insect-infested buildings, black mold, debris falling from ceilings, failing heating systems, and unrepaired bullet holes. Citing those conditions, teachers shut down dozens of Detroit schools through mass sickouts early last year.

Under the agreement, a five-member oversight committee—which will have two members representing the new Detroit Public Schools Community District, one parent, one educator, and one nonteacher—will be tasked with enforcing the settlement and ensuring that building repair requests are handled in a timely manner. The agreement also establishes a system for compelling the district to address complaints filed by parents and teachers.

The suit—which was brought by a group of parents and the Detroit Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers—largely laid blame at the feet of the DPSCD’s predecessor, the Detroit Public Schools, which had been run by four different state-appointed emergency managers over seven years. The lawsuit argued that the district was in worse shape than when the state first took over the district in 2009. Both local and national teacher union leaders positioned the agreement as a win for local control over schools.

“For almost a decade, students, parents, and educators have been exposed to, and have fought, increasingly deplorable learning and working conditions in Detroit’s public schools, said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “From rodents running across backpacks, to computer labs without access to the Internet, the students and families of Detroit have suffered enough at the hands of Gov. Rick Snyder and his handpicked emergency managers,” said Weingarten. “Under this settlement and with the newly elected school board, the students and families of Detroit will finally have safe and welcoming public schools with the conditions necessary for learning,”

Ivy Bailey, the interim president of the DFT, laid out what she hoped the win would mean for her members and her city.

“This agreement brings Detroit closer to the great public schools the Detroit Federation of Teachers has been fighting for,” said Bailey. “Beyond just educating our students, we have served as building maintenance, plumbers, pest control, bricklayers, and even painters for our classrooms and our decaying school buildings. This settlement will finally allow us to turn the page and devote our time to educating and enriching the lives of our students and their families.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.