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Detroit schools are back in session. Is it 'school as usual'?

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Lori Higgins/Detroit Free Press/AP

(Read caption) In this Monday, Jan. 11, 2016 photo, a Detroit parent addresses the crowd of mostly teachers that rallied in Detroit. Teachers whose organized sick-out shut down more than 60 Detroit schools Monday demanded the district address what they've described as deplorable teaching conditions.

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Detroit schools were back open Thursday after several days of scattered closings due to teacher protests, and the top priority for most officials is to keep them open.

Public school teachers were barred from a union strike by Michigan law, but they called in sick in such large numbers that 88 schools closed, according to the official Facebook page, in a protest of poor conditions inside schools.

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The "sickouts" began on Jan. 11 and on Wednesday caused over 90 percent of the city's schools to close. An attorney with Detroit Public Schools filed for a restraining order and preliminary injunction in court and named both union officials and 23 teachers to force them to return to work, CNN reported.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan (D) has ordered a round of inspections for the entire school district within three months, CNN reports. The mayor conducted a tour of the schools after the first sickout and says he understands the teachers' concerns, but he sees little efficacy in continued sickouts.

"[The mayor feels] the best thing for them to do is go back to school and teach," Mr. Duggan's spokesman John Roach told CNN.

Some people have supported the teachers' move, but others say the difficulties Detroit is facing are already well-known and teachers who leave work deny children classroom time.

"These teachers deserve to be fired for turning their backs on the children in their care," Michigan House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R) said, according to CNN. "Their actions also go against any possible resolution on potential [Detroit Public Schools] reforms, because any long-term agreement on Detroit schools has to put the kids first."

The teachers say they acted to make concerns about poor working conditions heard.

"It's because of the lack of respect that has been displayed toward teachers in this district, the hazardous working conditions, oversize classes, lost preparation periods, decrease in pay, increase in health care cost, uncertainty of their future," said interim teachers union president Ivy Bailey, according to CNN. "I could go on and on. Teachers are fed up and have had enough."

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Back in 2009, before current Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) took office, the state appointed an emergency manager to oversee the schools and try to get them back on track, both academically and financially, The New York Times' Julie Bosman reported.

“We’re on our fourth emergency manager here,” Craig Thiel, a Citizens Research Council senior research associate, told The New York Times. “They each seem to be borrowing from the same playbook: figure out a way to get through the current year, end the year without going insolvent, and then push costs onto the next year in the hopes that things will improve in some way. They’re dealing with these debts that should have been paid off years ago that have instead been put on future budgets.”

Mr. Snyder's proposed solution would create an alternate school district to actually run the schools, with the old one existing purely to pay off debts. Debts take nearly $1,200 of the $7,400 allocated per student annually, CNN reports. Duggan followed his inspections with a call for bipartisan support for Snyder's plan, MLive reported.