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88 Detroit Public Schools Close Due To Teacher Absences

"We're doing it for the children. We want them to have equitable learning environments just like our suburban counterparts, and we apologize for not stepping up sooner," one Detroit teacher told BuzzFeed News.

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Updated on

Detroit public school teachers, tired of what they say are pitiful classroom conditions and a lack of funding, called out sick Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, forcing the district to close 88 schools for the day.

The collective action was intended to highlight ongoing problems in Michigan's largest school district, which range from unsafe campuses to a lack of funding for basic classroom necessities like textbooks, Detroit educators told BuzzFeed News.

"We've been working under some very deplorable conditions," Kimberly Jackson, a seventh grade English teacher at Robeson/Malcolm X Academy, told BuzzFeed News. "Children should not have to be educated in that kind of environment, and teachers should not have to work in that kind of environment."

A representative for Detroit Public Schools (DPS) said that teachers began calling in sick Tuesday night. At 9 p.m. ET, the district announced five school closures on its Facebook page. The statement noted that staff members employed at the temporarily closed schools were still required to report to work.

Shortly after 6 a.m. on Wednesday, the list of closed schools increased to 68. A DPS spokesperson told BuzzFeed News at 10 a.m. that 88 schools in the district were closed for the day.

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Detroit teachers and education advocates involved with the mass call-out said the demonstration was intended to shed light on the quality of public education in the city.

Jackson, who is part of the organization DPS Teachers Fight Back, said that, in addition to hazardous health conditions at schools, the unstable budget has led to class sizes too large to foster quality learning.

"We have oversized classrooms with 40, sometimes 50 students per class," she said.

Jackson has talked to her students about the issues facing the district. She said they often reference family members and friends who go to school in Detroit's suburbs, where classes in computers, music, and arts are more available.

"We're doing it for the children," Marietta Elliott, a special education teacher at Robeson/Malcolm X Academy, told BuzzFeed News. "We want them to have equitable learning environments just like our suburban counterparts, and we apologize for not stepping up sooner."

The dangerous and, at times, unhealthy conditions at Detroit public schools had a turn in the national spotlight last week when Twitter user Detroitteach began posting photos of classrooms with mushrooms sprouting out of cracks in the floors, leaking ceilings, and bullet holes in the walls.

Mushrooms in a classroom. #SupportDPSTeachers

David Hecker, who serves as president of the Michigan branch of the American Federation of Teachers, told BuzzFeed News that the primary goal of the organization was to work with school employees to reacquire local control of the district. Since 1999, the district has been under control of the state of Michigan.

"No child in Flint should have lead in their water, and no child in Detroit should have to go to school in the conditions they're in," he said.

BuzzFeed News has reached out to the Michigan Department of Education for comment.

Tamerra Griffin is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based Nairobi, Kenya.

Contact Tamerra Griffin at tamerra.griffin@buzzfeed.com.

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