This DPS student's open letter puts the sick-outs into perspective

Over the past few months some of the teachers who work at DPS schools have been fighting for change within their district by engaging in peaceful protests by way of "sick-outs." The move may seem drastic, but for many it's their final attempt at bringing attention to a school district that lacks resources, lacks public accountability and lacks fiscal solvency despite years of being relegated to the whims and fancies (read: school closures) of state appointed Emergency Managers. 

The protestors have garnered mixed reactions.

Some stand in the solidarity with the teachers, acknowledging the courage it takes to stand up for what you believe in and act as a voice for students, who so often are left out of the big conversations around their education.

Others, such as current EM Darnell Earley (yes, that Mr. Earley from Flint) and Senator Phil Pavlov (R-Saint Clair), are not so enamored. Earley attempted to quash protests by asking a judge to issue a restraining order against 23 of the striking teachers and a preliminary injunction ordering the educators back to work (the judge shut him down). Pavlov introduced legislation last week that would punish and monetarily penalize striking teachers.

People write editorials (we included) about what missing a day of school will or wont't do to a child's education. People talk about lessons — good or bad — that will be imparted on students who witness their teachers going on strike. One voice, however, is noticeably missing from the conversation: the students. The letter shown below was written by a Renaissance High School student, Imani Harris, and to say it's moving is an understatement.

Let Imani tell you why she supports the striking teachers.

My name is Imani Harris and I am a student at Renaissance High School. I am a sophomore and have spent both of my high school years at Renaissance. Throughout my time at this school I have experienced good and bad things. As this year has gone by I have noticed many of the teacher sickouts, and protests. As I looked into them I have learned that I agree with everything these teachers stand for and I stand with them. Class sizes are too large, teaching conditions are horrible in some schools, and we barely have any resources. Things need to change, and we won't stop until they do.

Teachers who have participated in this sickout should not have their teaching certification taken away. First and foremost, there are already enough vacancies without you taking away 23 more teachers. The teachers are standing up for what they believe in, and are doing so peacefully. Trying to silence teachers by threatening to take away their jobs is childish and unfair to my education. When you have lost these teachers, how will you replace them? Who wants to work in a school district where ceilings fall on student’s heads, and mushrooms grow in the hallways? I did not have an English teacher for the first
four months of school, and last year I did not have a French teacher the whole first semester. With a history of all these vacancies, how will firing 23 teachers help your case at all.

I have a teacher named Zachary Sweet. He is one of the 23 teachers who may lose their job. Mr. Sweet is honestly the best teacher I've ever had. He is very dedicated to his job, he comes early in the morning to school to tutor, and stays after school for hours just to make sure that we understand. If there's anything we don't understand, he alters and tries again the next day. Mr. Sweet is my Honors Algebra 2 and Honors Geometry teacher, but he also teaches a German 1 class. Where would you find a teacher that can teach all three of those classes effectively? When would you be able to find a teacher to do so? Would this teacher be here before the end of the school year, or will I just have to figure it out myself while DPS continues to pick on teachers who just want better for us?

Legislators, the Emergency Manager and others have said that teachers are hindering our education by doing these sickouts, but the reality is that none of you live in Detroit, and none of you have children who go to a DPS school. None of you have to come to school every day and share books (if we even have books), or be in the middle of doing work and the lights cut off. None of you have to worry about your safety everyday of your life, or walk past mushrooms growing in the hallway. None of you have to skip lunch every day because the food is moldy, and the milk is old. None of you experience what we experience, and until you have, you have no right to speak on anything happening in our district. Our teachers are doing what is best for us, and my education is not being hindered any more than it was when I went a whole Semester without a French/English teacher.

I was always taught to stand up for what I believe in, and never back down. We have come too far, and opened too many doors to stop now. Things finally have a chance to turn around, and not only for my school, but for all of the other DPS schools. We deserve better. DPS students are treated as dollar signs, and/or just a number on a slate. I'm sure that none of you even know what our schools look like, let alone what we look like. How can you all take away our teachers and tell us that's what's best for us, when you don't even know us. It's totally unfair to even threaten to do this, and scare off our teacher while also impairing my education. If you want to do what's best for us, make a change. Students support this cause just as much as teachers do. We deserve so much more, what the District is doing in DPS is criminal, and wrong.


Imani Harris, 
Renaissance Sophomore

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