Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
Word on the street is that State Senator Phil Pavlov (R-Saint Clair) is developing legislation that would prohibit teacher “sickouts” of the type we have recently seen in the Detroit Public Schools. Earlier this week, Pavlov told Michigan Radio that he believes sickouts are nothing more than illegal strikes, which should result in severe sanctions for teachers (possibly including revocation of their teaching certificates). So far, there has been no word from Pavlov concerning out-of-control class sizes, the deplorable building conditions in the Detroit Public Schools, or whether he believes that teachers and students should be forced to spend their days in moldy, dilapidated, and toxic spaces.
I can hardly wait to see what language Pavlov’s anti-sickout legislation will contain.
This much seems clear: The bill will probably define teacher sickouts as prohibited public-employee strikes within the meaning of Section 2 of the Public Employment Relations Act. But how will Pavlov differentiate between illegal sickouts and legitimate activities by ill employees? Given Pavlov’s past rhetoric and anti-teacher animus, it’s not too hard to envision a final bill that would ban teacher sick days altogether.
Phil Pavlov is no stranger to teacher bashing and legislative overreaching. For example, Pavlov was the primary sponsor of Senate Bill 103—now Public Act 173 of 2015—which partially ties the evaluation of teachers to student performance on state assessments and standardized tests. Pavlov has also sponsored legislation to eliminate certain retirement benefits for new teachers and legislation to allow noncertified, nonendorsed individuals to teach in Michigan classrooms.
And then there’s one of my all-time favorites: Each term, Pavlov introduces legislation seeking to declare that firearms are not articles of interstate commerce and therefore cannot be regulated by Congress under its Commerce Clause authority. Does this guy seriously think the state legislature has the power to define the scope and extent of Congress’s authority under the United States Constitution? It is almost beyond belief that people elect such nitwits. How can we ever hope for such a person to understand the intricacies of public employment law and education policy?
It remains to be seen whether progressive institutions will stand with Detroit’s teachers or ignore their plight as has happened in the past. If the actions of the supposedly progressive Detroit Free Press are any indication, however, it seems that the teachers might not have the community support they so desperately need.
In 2014, the Free Press editorial board endorsed pro-public-education Democratic candidates in almost every swing senate district in the state—every swing district, that is, save one. In the competitive 25th District, the Free Press endorsed none other than Phil Pavlov, even though it professed to “disagree with the amount of the burden he wants to place on teachers.” More recently, one Free Press columnist has attempted to trivialize the teacher sickouts by insinuating that they are connected to ousted union president Steve Conn. She has written that “it is hard to understand what end a sickout serves” and that “[t]he protesting teachers haven’t articulated any immediate goals . . . .”
On the contrary, the teachers have articulated goals, including the restoration of power to the democratically elected Detroit Board of Education, the improvement of building conditions, and the reduction of class sizes. But sadly, it is becoming clear that the embattled Detroit teachers do not enjoy the support of the local media.
Mold and fungi growing in classrooms. Dead rodents and insects. No heat. Collapsing ceilings. Enormous class sizes. These are conditions that teachers in the Detroit Public Schools face on a daily basis. These are conditions that our legislators in Lansing have done nothing to fix. It is beyond dispute that Detroit teachers are forced to work in an environment that would not be tolerated in any suburban, affluent community. It is time (nay, past time) for local media and progressive institutions to stand and join in solidarity with the selfless men and women who teach Detroit’s children—men and women who give of themselves each day in spite of working conditions that few of us could stomach.
Time and again, lawmakers, administrators, and media have treated our hardworking teachers with scorn and contempt. This repeated marginalization and demonization has forced Detroit’s teachers to seek out nontraditional means of airing their grievances. Without the ability to strike, and with the “progressive” media unwilling to help spread their message, how else could these teachers make their collective voice heard? I submit that mass sickouts were their only remaining option, and I support them as they go forward in this important fight.