Nearly all Detroit schools closed due to teachers' sickout

By Suzannah Gonzales

(Reuters) - Nearly all public schools in Detroit were closed on Wednesday as teachers called in sick to protest conditions, the school system and teachers' union said.

The school district filed a request for a temporary injunction on Wednesday with the Michigan Court of Claims against the Detroit Federation of Teachers, teacher groups and two dozen individual teachers, court records showed.

District and union officials said they expected schools to reopen on Thursday.

Detroit Federation of Teachers Interim President Ivy Bailey said that with President Barack Obama visiting Detroit on Wednesday, people wanted to call attention to problems at schools.

It was the second time in as many weeks that teachers staged a protest. A sickout on Jan. 11 closed 64 schools.

All but nine of the district's 97 schools were closed, leaving 44,790 students out of class, district spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski said.

Union officials have said teachers are frustrated over conditions in schools such as crumbling walls, mold in classrooms, rats, and classroom overcrowding, and by a teacher shortage and low pay.

Bailey said the average Detroit school building was over 60 years old and the original part of one elementary school was more than 100 years old.

Detroit Public Schools, which are under state oversight, have seen declining enrollment as the city's population decreased and heavy pension and debt obligations that have left the district in danger of running out of cash in April.

The district said on Facebook that staff members were expected to report to work as usual. "When teachers decide not to come to work, we have no other option but to close the schools," Zdrodowski said.

The Detroit Federation of Teachers said on its website that members who did not call in sick should report to work, whether or not their schools were closed.

A report by Citizens Research Council of Michigan, a nonprofit public affairs group, said Detroit schools have $3.5 billion in debt and need to be rescued by the state of Michigan.

(Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales and Karen Pierog in Chicago and Victoria Cavaliere in Los Angeles; Editing by Alison Williams and Jeffrey Benkoe)