US teachers photograph their mouldy, crumbling classrooms


Detroit, Michigan is known for its dilapidated neighbourhoods full of abandoned houses. But its public schools seem to be falling apart, too. Teachers are so fed up with deteriorating school buildings that they have organised “sick-outs” – so many teachers call in sick that schools have to shut down – and posted photographs of their crumbling classrooms on Twitter.

Teachers at various Detroit schools have complained of mice, mould, holes in the floors and ceilings, permanently broken toilets, and computer labs with no Internet connection. The list goes on and on…

Detroit teachers have been complaining about the state of their schools for years. The school district faces mounting debt, and may run out of cash this year unless the state government allocates more funding. Several bills have been introduced to help dig the district out of debt, though many teachers fear this won’t be enough. In the meantime, several of Detroit’s schools have had to rely on non-profit organisations and church groups to help them with basic necessities – like patching up a roof.

“The gym is full of mold – so for exercise, students just walk up and down the hallways”

Lakia Wilson has been working at Detroit’s Spain Elementary-Middle School for 19 years, initially as a first-grade teacher and today as the school’s counselor.

Our school used to be nice, but over the years it’s fallen apart. There’s been black mould in the gym for a year now, due to a leaky roof. It smells awful, and makes it hard to breathe. The gym was closed two months ago, and it still hasn’t been fixed. For gym class, students just speed-walk up and down the schools’ hallways, over and over! The kids now hate gym, because they feel like they’re being punished.

Spain Elementary-Middle School's gym. 

During recess, students can no longer go out on the playground, because it too has been condemned. There’s a geyser of hot air coming out of the ground, and we’re not sure if it’s from the sewer or what…

Kids on the playground before it was condemned. That mist you see? It's coming from the ground, says our Observer. 

The condemned playground at Spain Elementary-Middle School.

“Teachers have to buy heaters and fans”

The kids are cooped up all day, so they grow restless and have trouble focusing in class. The classrooms are in poor shape, too. When it rains, water leaks through the ceiling.

When windows break, they get covered up with wood or plastic and then never get fixed.

The classrooms are freezing in the winter; students have to keep their coats on. In the summer, they’re boiling hot; children start panting, and some even get nosebleeds. Teachers pay out of their own pockets to buy space heaters and fans. Some of them even buy popsicles for the kids in the summer – they do whatever they can to try to make them comfortable.

Whenever we call the district to ask, why hasn’t this been fixed?, they’ll just repeat the same thing: “we’re in a deficit." Our complaints fall on deaf ears. That’s why teachers have gotten so fed up that they have held sicks-outs – my school was shut down for two days.

Of course, these conditions, coupled with the fact that teachers haven’t had a raise in 10 years, are pushing many teachers in the district to leave. We’re hemorrhaging – every day, someone quits. Because of the teacher shortage, at my school, we’ve have to cancel band, orchestra, and drama classes.

Sometimes, I dream of working in a bank, where it’s clean and cool. But I don’t want to work in a bank – I want to keep working with the students that I love. They deserve better.

In the United States, public schools are not all funded equally; their funding depends on the wealth of the city they are located in, since school funds are linked to property taxes. This leads to vast disparities between school districts. In Detroit, however, protesting teachers blame the state of Michigan for their school system’s deficit, since the district was taken over by the state seven years ago over low test scores.

This takeover does not seem to have helped, since test scores have continued to decline as the district has slid deep into debt. It has been run by a series of so-called "emergency managers"; the current manager is Darnell Earley, who has recently come under fire for actions at his previous job. He made the decision to switch the water supply of Flint, Michigan to what turned out to be a poisonous source in a bid to save money.