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Detroit Sues to Stop Teachers' Protests

Detroit Public Schools is seeking a temporary injunction against teachers after a sickout closed 88 schools in Detroit today -- the largest in a string of teacher protests.

By Lori Higgins and Jennifer Dixon

Detroit Public Schools is seeking a temporary injunction against teachers after a sickout closed 88 schools in Detroit today -- the largest in a string of teacher protests.

The district is seeking relief in the Michigan Court of Claims, naming 28 defendants, including two dozen teachers. Among the defendants: Steve Conn, the ousted leader of the Detroit Federation of Teachers; interim union president Ivy Bailey, and several groups including the DFT, DPS Teachers Fight Back and Detroit Strikes to Win.The suit seeks to stop the sick-outs.

The court action came on the day most DPS schools were closed because of the sick-out, one of many in recent weeks. Teachers are protesting a number of things, including what they describe as deplorable conditions in schools, cuts in benefits and large class sizes.

The lawsuit alleges that the cumulative effect of multiple sick-outs is the loss of at least seven instructional days.

The lawsuit said other damages include:

* Students deprived of their right to attend school.

* Students' academic progress adversely impacted.

* Students deprived of their school breakfasts and lunches.

* Parents forced to miss work.

* Non-striking DPS employees forced to miss work.

* Waste of taxpayer money.

DPS officials had little to say about the court filing.

"DPS has requested the court's intervention in addressing the ongoing teacher sick outs that are plaguing the district," spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski said in a statement. "There will be no further comment until we receive direction from the court."

Ann Mitchell, the administrator for the DFT, said during a rally this afternoon that the union is ready "to fight for our teachers because they're fighting for the kids of Detroit."

"It's amazing that DPS wants to fight this way. We're going to stand for the teachers. We're going to represent them. There are big issues going on that they're trying to call attention to. No one is dealing with those issues."

Asked whether the sick-outs would continue, Mitchell said she doesn't know. "The union didn't organize this. These are teachers organizing themselves to make a statement. But whatever they do we're going to stand with them."

Several of the teachers named in the complaint have been quoted in media reports on the sick-outs. The suit singles out Conn, saying he left his teaching assignment in early January without permission to hold a press conference outside Western International High School in support of the sick-outs. The suit says Conn has been quoted as saying that the teacher sick-outs were a "huge victory" and that the sick-outs have taken the "movement" a "huge leap forward" and that a "full-blown strike is needed."

The suit also claims that Conn has encouraged others to strike.

It also singles out Bailey, saying she has expressed the possibility of a district-wide strike.

Erika Jones, a teacher at Cass Tech High School, is among the teachers identified in the suit. She's puzzled why, because she said she didn't call in sick either of the two days the school has closed because of sick-outs.

"I don't understand how I can be named," said Jones.

Jones was interviewed by a radio station, describing a number of problems in the district. The court filing says she has engaged in or is engaged in inducing others to strike. Jones said that isn't true. She said the restraining order is an attempt to silence teachers from raising concerns about the district.

"I know this is a scare tactic," Jones said.

In a statement, Bailey said: "It is regrettable that the Detroit Public Schools seeks to punish those who speak out about the deplorable conditions in our schools. It would be so much more productive to actually do something to fix Detroit schools rather than file restraining orders against those who expose the miserable conditions."

Earlier today, Bailey said today's sick-outs were a cry for help.

"Educators, parents and the community are fed up with Lansing's inaction on the abysmal conditions that permeate Detroit public schools. No one has confidence in Gov. Rick Snyder or Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, who have the power to do something to fix the schools.

"Today's action by teachers, though discouraged by the Detroit Federation of Teachers, was a cry for help. People are yearning for someone to pay attention, and with President Obama coming to the Detroit auto show, they didn't want to miss an opportunity to let him know how deep the frustration is over what's happened to the schools for 47,000 kids."

(c)2016 the Detroit Free Press

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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