Detroit teachers' 'sickout' protest shuts 80 per cent of schools on day of Obama visit

Teachers have been struggling with inadequate funding and ageing infrastructure 

Around 80 per cent of schools in Detroit are closed today - the day that President Barack Obama is visiting the city - because of teacher “sickout” protests designed to draw attention to inadequate funding and crumbling infrastructure.

At total of 83 schools will not open as a result of what officials call “high teacher absences”. It is the latest incident of staff calling in sick to highlight what they say are unacceptably high class sizes, dead rats and mildew.

Ivy Bailey, interim president of Detroit's teacher’s union, said that teachers had endured enough and were taking the chance to highlight the problem the day that Mr Obama visits the North American International Auto Show.

“It's because of the lack of respect that has been displayed toward teachers in this district, the hazardous working conditions, oversize classes, lost preparation periods, decrease in pay, increase in health care cost, uncertainty of their future,” Ms Bailey told CNN.

“I could go on and on. Teachers are fed up and have had enough.”

The school system is struggling with debt of $515m. About $7,400 of school funding is allocated per student each year. But close to $1,200 of that goes to pay down debt and other costs.

Republican governor Rick Snyder said he wants money spent on debt service shifted into classroom funding to give teachers what they need to do their jobs.

One proposal for doing this was introduced in the state legislature last week and would create a second school district within the city that assumes control over all of its schools and students, while leaving the current Detroit Public School system with only the district’s debt.

“The time to act is now,” said Mr Snyder. “The Detroit schools are in need of a transformational change.”

But many involved in the protests are suspicious of Mr Snyder’s plan

Cass Tech teacher and activist Steve Conn said teachers were planning to participate in a march to the Cobo Centre, where President Obama will be attending the auto show.

“We have got to stop this whole business by Snyder, which is an attempt just further the charters and further, really, the destruction of education in the city,” he told CBS. “We are determined to win that fight. The whole next generation relies on it.”

The “sickout” comes as the state of Michigan is already reeling from a crisis in the city of Flint, where more than 100,000 people have been left unable to drink the tap water. 

A state of emergency has been declared and a series of class action lawsuits have named Mr Snyder and other senior officials. 

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