Detroit Public Schools Can’t Block Sickouts | Courthouse News Service
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Detroit Public Schools Can’t Block Sickouts

(CN) - Deteriorating Detroit Public Schools cannot temporarily restrain teacher absences via "sickouts" that have closed dozens of schools this month, a Michigan judge ruled.

After seeing poor conditions at four Detroit Public Schools (DPS) facilities, Mayor Mike Duggan called for inspections of 11 schools Jan. 13, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Detroit's Building, Safety, Engineering and Environmental Department found 152 property maintenance code violations, including rodents, mold, damaged roofs and broken glass, which have built up as the district's debt has grown to about $515 million, the newspaper reported.

The school with the most violations, Cody-Detroit Institute of Technology College Prep High School, had a startling 30 citations, while Benjamin Carson High School had 17 violations, including a broken elevator, according to the Free Press.

School officials have about a month to repair the facilities, and if they miss the deadline, Duggan reportedly said Detroit will take "prompt legal action."

Meanwhile, the deteriorating buildings - along with low wages, crowded classes, and concerns about pending education reform legislation - have led to widespread teacher sickouts, causing 88 of the district's roughly 100 schools to close last week, according to the Free Press.

The district has since filed suit against 28 defendants, including teachers, grassroots groups, and the Detroit Federation of Teachers and its interim and ousted presidents.

DPS said that the sickouts have harmed children by disrupting school, and that it is illegal for teachers to strike under the Michigan Public Employment Relations Act, the Free Press reported.

But the Federation says the actions were protected, according to the newspaper.

The legislation at issue - introduced by Michigan Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, earlier this month - would give the district more financial oversight and a nine-member school board appointed by Duggan and Gov. Rick Snyder, which would then hire a new superintendent and later be replaced by an elected school board, the Free Press reported.

Plus, Senate Republicans reportedly introduced legislation to amp up the state's anti-strike laws last week.

Judge Cynthia Stephens of the Michigan Court of Claims denied the district a temporary restraining order Thursday and scheduled a hearing for Monday, according to the Free Press.

Stephens found no proof the Federation encouraged the sickouts, rejecting the mention of a robocall in which interim president Ivy Bailey said teachers may need to strike, the newspaper says.

In fact, two of the teacher defendants were allegedly at work on the sickout days, while others had valid medical excuses, including fighting breast cancer, the Free Press reported.

Over 100 protesters reportedly shouted and held up signs in front of Cadillac Place, the high-rise where the hearing was held.

Though the district said Monday that two DPS schools were closed due to the sickouts, one of them actually closed because all of its teachers were sued and called to court, the Free Press reported.

Stephens dismissed grassroots organizations By Any Means Necessary, Detroit Strike to Win, and DPS Teachers Fight Back from the case, according to the Free Press.

The judge set another hearing for Feb. 16, ordering the parties to identify witnesses and submit briefs, the newspaper reported.

The 20 most problematic schools are slated for inspections by the end of January, while all 97 district buildings will be inspected by the end of April, the mayor's office reportedly said.

Boasting numerous "teacher vacancies" on its website, DPS has reportedly managed its 46,000 students with the help of an emergency manager since 2009.

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