DPS teachers say school is making them sick

Posted at 6:50 PM, Jan 11, 2016

Detroit Public Schools teachers called in sick Monday morning forcing the closure of 64 schools. Some say they didn’t just call in sick to protest conditions in the district. They are literally sick due to conditions in the district.

Teachers say they tolerate conditions many wouldn't at their workplaces.

At Spain Elementary-Middle School, the pool has been shut down for five years. Pieces of concrete fall off of vents scaring children. Ceiling tiles fall into classrooms. Those problems were bearable.

“If the ceilings are falling down, we sweep up, go back business as usual,” said Ellen Morgan, a 2nd grade teacher at the school

She has worked there for about seven years. She says now conditions are getting to the point that it is unsafe.

“When it rains the roof is like a cheese grater,” said Andre Harlen, a physical education and health teacher at the school. “I couldn’t keep up with it.”

He tried to protect the gym floor from the leaking roof with buckets, but eventually it was beyond his control.  Water warped the gym floor. About three years ago some of the flooring was replaced, but the roof wasn’t properly fixed.  It happened again. Now there are signs up telling students not to go into the gym. The floor is torn up, and the smell is horrendous.

“This smell is a mildew, mold, wet basement smell,” said Morgan. “It makes you nauseated.”

"The conditions in this school are inhuman, deplorable, dilapidated,” said Lakia Wilson, a teacher. “It is not healthy.  We are literally sick.”

They say the conditions in the school are one example of why teachers took part in the sick-out protest. 

"This is the teachers of Detroit Public Schools finally standing up. We have been working in extreme unhealthy conditions,” said Nakia Lockhart, another Spain teacher.

The say they feel the district has given them no other option.  They have voiced concerns to the district about building conditions.  The possibly moldy gym has been an issue for a year now. They have voiced concerns to the state, contacting the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but nothing has been addressed. 

“We have tried,” said Brenda Jones, a Spain teacher. “Nobody has responded.”

7 Action News reached out to Detroit Public Schools for comment. 

The district released a statement saying

"When issues are brought to our attention, we investigate and take the appropriate actions to address them in as timely a manner as possible – even in the face of the very serious budget constraints necessitated by the District’s financial crisis.

As it relates to Spain gymnasium, the DPS Operations Department has responded to concerns of the condition of the gymnasium floor. The gymnasium sustained major damages last school year due to significant roof leaks. The floor was removed because it was warped and unusable. The black substance in the photos you sent is mastic (adhesive that held the     wood down) and direct under the floor -- not mold. The gymnasium is currently closed to activity and classes while the District evaluates further remediation action and repairs.”

Teachers insist the smell indicates that it needs to be checked for mold.

“You can feel it instantly when you breathe in,” said Jones.

7 Action News reached out to the city to see if health inspectors were aware of the concerns.  Mayor Mike Duggan told us he would visit a number of schools with the heads of the  Detroit Health Department and the Detroit Buildings, Safety Engineering and Environmental Department.

“Based on what we find, the City of Detroit will take whatever enforcement action is necessary to make sure all Detroit Public Schools are compliant with all health and building codes,” Duggan said in a statement.

Teachers say they have heard the criticisms that they are hurting children by not remaining in classrooms teaching. 

“This is about the children. You look at what happened in Flint,” said Morgan, referring to the Flint Water Lead Crisis which happened under the leadership of then Flint Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, who now is DPS' Emergency Manager. " We don’t want to be looking back saying we wish we had done something."