Dozens of public schools in Detroit were closed this week due to a teacher “sick-out.” The teachers stayed home in protest against conditions at the schools they say pose workplace safety and health issues.

Chief among the teachers’ concerns are poorly constructed roofs, crumbling walls, a rodent problem, overcrowded classrooms and inadequate heating.

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Detroit Mayor Mike Dugan toured some of the schools Tuesday. While he said some schools appeared to be in good condition, he said he saw a dead mouse, children wearing coats in cold classrooms and a gym floor warped so badly from roof leaks that kids couldn’t play on it, according to the Associated Press (AP).

"Our children need our teachers in the classroom. ... But there's no question about the legitimacy of the issues that they're raising," Duggan told the AP. “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.

Detroit Federation of Teachers interim President Ivy Bailey said in a statement, "A sufficient response to the Detroit Public Schools' deplorable health, safety and learning conditions that are outraging educators and parents would be to address these issues and take action to mitigate the problems. The mayor and the state school superintendent are working with us on these issues. We need the governor's help as well."

Unlike other big city mayors, Duggan isn’t in charge of the school system. The district has more than $500 million dollars in debt and unpaid bills, according to The Detroit News, and has been under state oversight for seven years.

The AP reports:

“The governor has called for the state to commit $715 million over a decade to address the district's $500 million debt and relaunch the district under a new name. But his plan has yet to receive support in the legislature, which is controlled by fellow Republicans.”

On Wednesday, only five schools were closed, suggesting the “sick-out” effort may be waning.

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Some people have criticized the teachers for expressing their concerns at the expense of the students' education. "There are other venues and ways if people have issues. ... They shouldn't be doing that at the expense of having kids not in class," Governor Rick Snyder said. For example, a teacher can file a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

OSHA says your right to refuse to work is protected only if all of these conditions are met:

  • You've asked your employer to eliminate the danger, and they failed to do so.
  • You genuinely believe an imminent danger exists.
  • A reasonable person would believe there's a real danger of death or serious injury.
  • There isn't enough time, due to the urgency of the problem, to go through regular enforcement channels, such as an OSHA inspection.

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Angela is a Pulitzer Prize-winning digital editor with more than 15 years of experience delivering news and information to audiences worldwide. Prior to joining SafeBee, she was the features editor for at The Boston Globe, overseeing health, travel, entertainment, business and lifestyle coverage. Before moving to features, she was the news and homepage editor, covering stories such as the Boston Marathon bombing, Red Sox World Series victories, presidential elections, a papal inauguration, and more. Her favorite safety tip: Clean your phone! The average cell phone has 18 times more germs than the toilet handle in a men’s restroom.