In the first part of our series on former Saginaw City Manager Darnell Earley, we looked at how while under his control as Emergency Manger, the City of Flint started drawing its municipal water from the corrosive Flint River; and how while under his reign, the order was given back in April, 2014 when Earley rejected Detroit’s final offer to supply clean, safe drinking water – and Flint terminated its relationship with the City of Detroit, leading to one of the worst lead-contamination crises in our nation’s history.
Earley has attempted to deflect culpability and responsibility by disingenuously asserting that local civic leaders made the decision to disconnect earlier to his arrival, conveniently forgetting that under the language of the Emergency Manager legislation that created his position, the Flint City Council had no binding authority to make such decision; and moreover, the plan to disconnect was not to be solidified until new supply pipelines were built.
Apart from earning full coverage health benefits and a sizable pension from the beleaguered City of Saginaw, Earley also earned $180,000 per year as Flint Emergency Manager, and has been enjoying a $221,000 per year salary as Emergency Manager for the Detroit Public School system – a position he continues to enjoy to this day.
As if the mess in Flint isn’t bad enough, on January 25th the Michigan Court of Claims denied an injunction that was filed by Darnell Earley and the Detroit Public Schools against Detroit teachers and their union and others – opening the lens on yet another scandal of epic proportions.
In her statement, Detroit Federation of Teachers Interim President Ivy Bailey said: “Today’s decision is one step in the right direction for Detroit’s children, their families and our members—who have been embarrassed, violated, and treated without dignity or respect by the district. These educators have faced pay and benefit cuts and abysmal working conditions, and they want nothing more than to educate their students.
“Our students deserve high-quality neighborhood public schools that are safe, welcoming and well-resourced. Sadly, this district - under the management of Darnell Earley - has failed to deliver on that promise. And its lawsuit against teachers is no help. Detroit has an education crisis; Flint has a water crisis. Neither issue can be solved by an injunction. Now is the time for Lansing to do right by the people of Michigan.”
As a result of this decision, the Detroit Federation of Teachers, its affiliated state & national unions, and several parents have filed a lawsuit against Detroit Public Schools and Emergency Manager Darnell Earley over the condition of schools in Detroit that seeks repair of building code violations, a capital plan for school facilities, restoration of local control over the Detroit Public Schools and Earley’s removal.
According to this lawsuit, the Detroit Public Schools’ fiscal and building conditions have left Detroit students, teachers and parents exposed to dangerous environments that will cause serious and irreparable harm to their health, safety and welfare, and to students’ educational opportunities.
The suit is asking the court to compel the Detroit Public Schools and Emergency Manager Darnell Earley to repair all existing building code violations, create an appropriately funded capital plan to bring schools up to 21st-century standards, remove Earley and restore local control of the school district.
The DFT, AFT Michigan, the American Federation of Teachers, DFT Interim President Ivy Bailey and several parents filed the complaint in Michigan’s Third Circuit Court in Detroit. The DFT is operating under a voluntary administratorship by the AFT.
The suit says the Detroit Public Schools and Emergency Manager Earley have allowed schools to deteriorate to a crisis point, forcing students “to spend their young lives in deplorable surroundings, risking their health and safety in the process, and imposing on students and their teachers an atmosphere that interferes with their securing a minimally sufficient education.” The complaint lists some of the conditions in Detroit’s schools, which include black mold, bacteria, freezing cold or overly hot classroom temperatures, rodent and insect infestations, exposed wiring and falling debris.
“Educators and parents have been raising the red flag for years about dangerous school conditions, only to be snubbed, ignored and disrespected by DPS and the emergency managers, including Earley. The state has brought the school district to its knees, and now it’s time to give up the reins,” said DFT Interim President Ivy Bailey. “Detroit teachers should be commended for bringing these problems to light. They work so hard despite the poor conditions and make so many sacrifices to give their kids a great education.”
Shoniqua Kemp, whose two children attend Osborn High School, said, “My children go to a school that has no working water fountains, boarded-up windows, excessively hot temperatures and overcrowded classes. Like other parents, I feel ignored by a school district that doesn’t seem to care. I will continue to fight for my children and for every other Detroit student and teacher.”
AFT President Randi Weingarten, who recently toured Cody High School, said, “We send mixed messages to our children when we tell them that a great education is the gateway to a bright future yet make them sit for hours every day in abysmal, often dangerous classroom conditions. No one should ever risk getting sick or injured just for walking into a school. Detroit public schools should be places where parents want to send their children, teachers want to teach and kids want to attend and learn.”
Weingarten noted that this suit is similar to one the United Federation of Teachers in New York City brought in the 1990s. There the union won a court remedy to bring New York City public school buildings up to code.
For nearly seven years, DPS has been controlled by four state-appointed emergency managers. The complaint alleges that DPS is in worse shape than before it was taken over by the state 15 years ago. Fiscally, the district faces a $515 million debt, and it may be unable to make payroll by April 2016.
The suit contends teachers have brought the deplorable conditions to the attention of the state. A Spain Elementary-Middle School teacher, for example, filed a complaint with the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration in October 2015 about the dangers of inhaling mold from the gym. DPS said it would fix the problem within 15 days and MIOSHA closed the investigation, yet DPS did nothing and the mold remains there today.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan ordered health and safety inspections of all DPS schools and, on Jan. 20, 2016, released the first report, on 11 schools. Cody High School was one of the worst, with 30 building code violations. Spain was found to have possible diffusion of mold spores throughout the building.
In fact, the suit says, Earley recently admitted that he knew about the conditions at Spain and throughout DPS, and that he told Spain school workers to just avoid using the mold-infested gym.
The complaint concludes: “The state of DPS facilities create terrible obstacles to students’ learning and teachers’ teaching—obstacles that are difficult to overcome even with the [students’] tremendous perseverance … and the [teachers’] valiant efforts.” However, asking a child to learn or a teacher to instruct in classrooms so cold they can see their breath; in classrooms that are vermin-infested, have ceiling tiles falling from above and buckets to catch the rainwater dripping inside; or in buildings that are literally making them sick, is more than what is legally or constitutionally tolerable.”
“This is far from the provision of a minimally adequate education as the Michigan Constitution requires,” the complaint states. “[Is it] any wonder that DPS students, given these conditions as well as the other effects of austerity and poverty, have some of the worst achievement results in the country?”
The plaintiffs are asking the court for the following:
“Emergency Manager Darnell Earley has abdicated his role and responsibilities as overseer of the Detroit Public Schools. As emergency manager, Earley has shown a willful and deliberate indifference to our schools’ increasingly unsafe and unhealthy conditions, and a blatant disrespect for the teachers, school employees, parents and students of our city.
“His departure, which the Detroit Federation of Teachers, parents and the community have called for, is a step in the right direction. For nearly seven years, DPS has been controlled by four state-appointed emergency managers. They have created both a fiscal and a moral crisis, running up a $515 million debt, running down the physical conditions of our schools, and forcing educators to bear the brunt of the problems with fewer resources and more benefit cuts.
“Earley’s resignation presents a perfect opportunity for state officials in Lansing to pay off the debt their appointed managers have created and return the Detroit Public Schools to local control. Appointing another emergency manager won’t fix Detroit’s education crisis. Now is the time for DPS to have an elected school board that answers to the people of this great city.”
Saginaw & Bay City Lead?
Reporter Carey Wedler has also issued a disturbing dispatch on (ANTIMEDIA) that as the nation rightly focuses on Flint’s ongoing water crisis, other cities in the state of Michigan face even higher levels of lead contamination. Indeed, the alarming pervasiveness of potentially toxic drinking water extends across the United States.
The Detroit News reports that “Elevated blood-lead levels are seen in a higher percentage of children in parts of Grand Rapids, Jackson, Detroit, Saginaw, Muskegon, Holland and several other cities, proof that the scourge of lead has not been eradicated despite decades of public health campaigns and hundreds of millions of dollars spent to find and eliminate it.”
Of over 7,000 children tested in the Highland Park and Hamtramck areas of Detroit in 2014, 13.5 percent tested positive for lead. Among four zip codes in Grand Rapids, one in ten children had lead in their blood. In Adrian and south-central Michigan, more than 12 percent of 640 children tested had positive results.
These overall numbers are higher than Flint’s, where Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha found lead in up to 6.3 percent of children in the highest-risk areas; while The Guardian reported Dr. Hanna-Attisha has also said the rate is as high at 15 percent in certain “hot spots,” the size of those samples was not listed. Even so, the overall figures across Michigan are lower than in previous years. In 2012, children tested across Michigan had lead in their blood at a rate of 4.5 percent, about five times less than the rate ten years prior, which reached an alarming 25 percent. In spite of the decrease in recent years, however, thousands of children in Michigan are still affected.
“In 2013, that level sank to 3.9 percent and fell again to 3.5 percent in 2014. But that is still 5,053 children under age 6 who tested positive in 2014,” the Detroit News explained. “Each had lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter. (Though no amount is considered safe, 5 micrograms is the threshold that experts say constitutes a ‘much higher’ level than most children.)” One Detroit zip code had a rate of 20.8 percent of children who tested positive in 2014, and 20.3 percent the following year.
Kieya Morrison, a veteran kindergarten teacher, who now teaches preschool, described a recent student known to have elevated levels of blood in her system. The girl experienced difficulties grasping simple cognitive tasks, like differentiating between a triangle and a square. “She had cognitive problems. She had trouble processing things,” Morrison said. “She could not retain any of the information.”
In fact, lead levels are elevated across the United States. Anti-Media also reported on Sebring, Ohio, where a similar lead crisis spawned official cover-ups. For years, discoveries of lead in public water supplies have made headlines, even if these finding were not national news.
In 2008, the Los Angeles school district’s water supply was found to have levels of lead hundreds of times higher than the allowable. In 2015, officials could not guarantee they had adequately purified the water. In another example, in 2010, New York City tested 222 older homes known to have lead pipes, and found 14 percent had lead levels higher than the allowable limit.
Vox noted that in 2014, “Nine counties nationwide told the CDC that 10 percent or more of their lead poisoning tests came back positive. Four of them are in Louisiana, two in Alabama, and the rest scattered across West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, and Oklahoma.”
The problem extends beyond anecdotal cases or any specific region. As Huffington Post reports, millions of lead pipes — like the ones that contaminated the water in Flint — are still in service across the United States: “There are roughly 7.3 million lead service lines in the U.S., according to an estimate by the Environmental Protection Agency, down from 10.5 million in 1988. Service lines are the pipes connecting water mains to people’s houses. They’re mostly found in the Midwest and Northeast.”
Jerry Paulson, emeritus professor of pediatrics and environmental health at George Washington University, told the Detroit News how common the problem is: “This is a situation that has the potential to occur in however many places around the country there are lead pipes, “ he explained.
“Unless and until those pipes are removed, those communities are at some degree of risk.”