Detroit Public Schools Decaying and Dangerous Due to Debt

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

For years, students and staff have had to endure mould, rotting walls, broken toilets, leaking ceilings and vermin in their schools, but it wasn’t until Detroit Public Schools (DPS) teachers posted pictures of the disturbing conditions on Twitter in early January 2016 that the problems came to light. According to RT, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan visited several schools to get a closer look at the deplorable learning environments. In addition to rodent feces and peeling wallpaper, Duggan noticed children wearing coats indoors due to boiler operator cuts.

Since 2009, the Detroit school district has been under state emergency management, causing one third of the money in the district to go towards servicing the over $3.5 billion debt rather than repairing the city’s decaying public schools, according to a Citizens Research Council of Michigan report.

On Jan. 20, 2016, 88 of approximately 100 Detroit public schools closed due to DPS teachers calling in sick to attend a “sickout” to protest the deplorable conditions and lack of media coverage. Eight days later, according to Vox, the Detroit Federation of Teachers, American Federation of Teachers and many parents filed complaints asking the court to: conduct periodic inspections of schools, investigate complaints of hazardous school conditions and set up an appropriately funded capital plan to bring all DPS up to 21st-century standards. And still, in response to about 170 teacher vacancies from these “sickouts”, Michigan state Senate Education Committee Chair Phil Pavlov, wants to punish teachers for protesting by stripping them of their teaching certificates, imposing severe fines and tightening anti-strike laws, which would leave some students without a certified teacher—if there is one left at all.

According to a Detroit News article published on Jan. 26, 2016, Mayor Duggan wants to crack down on DPS health and safety violations by conducting inspections with deadlines to complete repairs; however, a Feb. 8, 2016 article from Vox claims the deplorable conditions remain, accompanied by an exodus of teachers that has left 170 positions vacant. . .

As of March 17, 2016, the only corporate media to cover the story was the New York Times, which only covered the “sickout” on Jan. 20, 2016, and the Washington Post, which started covering DPS during the first “sickout” on Jan. 11, 2016 and has since published a few surface-level follow-ups. While mainstream media covered the “sickouts”, secondary media, such as RT and Vox, were first to cover the conditions of the schools.


Citizens Research Council of Michigan, “Detroit Public Schools’ Legacy Costs and Indebtedness,” Citizens Research Council of Michigan, January 2016,

RT, “Teachers in Detroit on ‘sickout’ strike against crumbling, pest-ridden schools,” RT, January 13, 2016,

Shalon Miller, “I’m a Detroit teacher protesting our awful school conditions. Here’s why I think we’ll win.,” Vox, February 8, 2016,

Student Researcher: Jessie Anton (University of Regina)

Faculty Evaluator: Patricia W. Elliott (University of Regina)