News Story

State Legislature Looking to Address Detroit School Sickouts

Chairman of education committee criticizes 'ridiculous antics'

The chair of the State Senate Education Committee said state legislators are looking at how to address the series of sickouts staged by Detroit Public School teachers who are upset about plans by Gov. Rick Snyder to completely revamp the troubled school district.

Detroit Public Schools Spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski didn’t respond to questions about how many schools had been closed due to sickouts. The media reported that five schools recently had been closed in one week.

The Detroit News reported that Steve Conn, who was the president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers before being removed, was taking credit for the sickouts.

“These ridiculous antics are simply so-called adults depriving schoolchildren of valuable instruction time,” said Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township, who is chair of the Senate's education committee, in an email. “They are clearly deliberate and coordinated efforts to shut down schools, and they absolutely merit the Legislature’s attention. In fact, we are looking right now into the legal definitions of strike conditions and other potential measures to address this situation.”

Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, said he would support a bill that addressed sickouts by teachers that close schools.

“They are not supposed to strike,” Jones said. “They get around not striking by a sickout. So perhaps there needs to be a change in the law in that area.”

While the sickouts are considered illegal strikes by some legal experts, the process is cumbersome to enforce under existing laws. The law states that before a public employer may discipline a public employee for engaging in a strike, the public employee has a right to a hearing.

With a large school district, that can lead to hundreds upon hundreds of hearings. For example, media reports have listed as many as a dozen DPS schools that have been closed due to sickouts in December and January. There are more than 460 teachers at those schools cited.