DETROIT (WWJ) – Cass Tech High School in Detroit is closed Tuesday because too many teachers have called off and there aren’t enough educators to fill the classrooms.
Erika Jones, a teacher at the school, told WWJ that teachers organized a “mini strike” by calling off, using a personal business day to excuse their absence, as a way to protest a number of grievances — including Governor Rick Snyder’s plans to split DPS into two separate districts.
“Cass being one of the larger schools in the district, it’s more of an impact I think,” she said. “I think it will be heard by the governor and maybe even national news to let it be known that we love the kids, but we need some improvements.”
Bryan Gibson was among parents frustrated at the situation.
“So they’re not opening the school today? Oh no! Now that there is some malarkey. How can they? Wow,” said Gibson, who had a car-load of kids. “I’m going to talk to the administration. This definitely has to improve. That’s just ridiculous because I just wasted time, gas, and now I’ve got to take my son all the way back home.”
Gibson said his frustration isn’t with the teachers, just that parents weren’t notified ahead of time.
Steve Conn, former president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said this effort was not spontaneous.
“We’re going school to school, we’re going around and it’s going to build toward a city-wide strike and we want students and parents to join in, too,” Conn told WWJ’s Mike Campbell. “We need to stand up for quality public education. The people of Detroit have been robbed by 16 years of state management. It’s got to end and we’re demanding it end now.”
Conn showed up at the school to help explain to parents what is going on.
“They know how to educate, in Lansing and in the nation, they know how to educate young people but it does take funds,” he said. “And what they’re doing right now is robbing from us.”
The district said they don’t disagree with the teachers’ right to protest. However, the problem arises “when these protests take away instructional time from our students.”
“To deny students their opportunity to learn in the interest of making a political statement should go against every principle a teacher holds important, and sends a terrible message to the very students to whom they are supposed to serve as role models,” Michelle Zdrodowski, DPS spokesperson, said in a statement.
“DPS students and their families make every effort, despite a myriad of challenges, to make it to the classroom every day. It is truly disappointing that this small subset of the District’s dedicated educators would choose to let them down this way,” Zdrodowski continued. “Students should not be taught that it’s OK to shirk their responsibilities, which is the message the teachers who call in sick – without truly being sick – are sending to their students.”
Snyder’s plan, outlined in April, calls for an “old” and “new” district — one to pay off $715 million in operating debt and the other to operate schools he says are in academic crisis.
The new Detroit Community School District would handle academic operations, payroll, health care, employee contracts and computers. The current Detroit Public Schools would remain intact for tax-collection purposes and to retire the debt.
A Detroit Education Commission – with three gubernatorial appointees and two mayoral appointees – would hire a chief education officer to craft accountability, facilities and enrollment plans. The commission could reorganize or close low-performing traditional and charter schools.
The new district’s board initially would governed by gubernatorial and mayoral appointees, transitioning to a fully elected board in 2021.
The Detroit Public Schools have been under state oversight since 2009.