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A Great American Disgrace, Filled With Children

Photograph by ABC

At a very basic level, Detroit is failing its school children. Well, not all of them. Just the most vulnerable. And they number in thousands—tens of thousands, really.

It's not that people don't care; they do: parents, neighbors and the kids, themselves. And teachers, they care enough to fight. At Spain Elementary-Middle School, where the gym floors are warped and torn up, the plumbing in the bathrooms are barely functioning, the textbooks are outdated and plaster is falling from walls and ceilings, the teachers staged a sick-out in protest, to bring attention to the facilities mess they teach in, where they expect children to show up every day and spend hours, basically, in squalor. Even the playground isn't a safe option.

"We are losing generations of children because we are failing them. We are failing them because we are not able to provide everything that they need: textbooks, programming and even the facilities," Lakia Wilson, the school's counselor and union representative, told CNN. "And that is criminal. And those are just the basics, that's the necessities."

Most of Spain's teachers called in over two days, forcing the school to close.

Underfunding repairs and improvements for Detroit's aging school buildings is a citywide problem. Along with Spain teachers, those from more than 64 schools also called in sick to bring attention to their underfunded and aging facilities, too.

Budget-makers blame the Michigan state legislature for not approving spending on improvements. The Legislature blames budget shortfall. Meanwhile, the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration has an open investigation into the conditions there, and Detroit Public School's basically say that the district has no money to do anything. Fixing Spain is estimated to cost $5 million.

The teachers were criticized for the sick-out, but they say it got some attention. Still, the place stinks, literally. Recently, water poured from a ceiling after a broken water fountain ran all night. Plastic tarps cordon off exposed areas of the gym. The place is barely recognizable as a school.

And yet, incredibly, kids still show up. Every day. Teachers too. Everyone tries their best to not totally condemn the future of the students.

The questions are: When is this school going to get fixed? Who is going to fix it? And why has it taken so long?

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