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Detroit school board alleges state discrimination, retaliation

Aug 3, 2015

Protesters outside the Detroit Public Schools' emergency manager's office in 2013.
Credit Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The Detroit Public Schools’ elected board has filed a federal civil rights complaint against Governor Rick Snyder.

The Title VI complaint — the portion of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which deals with discrimination claims against institutions that receive federal funds — asks the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate a number of allegations against the district and its state-appointed officials.

They include misspending public funds, violating the rights of special education students, and a general “pattern of discrimination, retaliation, [and] creating a hostile educational environment,” according to the complaint.

Board President Herman Davis said the board, which is effectively powerless under an emergency manager, had no other way to address these concerns.

“We just wouldn’t win in the courts in Michigan,” Davis said. “So we knew it was a fight that had to go to the federal level.”

Davis said that Detroit’s students, parents and taxpayers have suffered under sustained state “mismanagement.” The state has largely run the district for 12 of the past 15 years, and is currently under its fourth emergency manager.

Under state control, the district ran up most of its current $2 billion in debt, much of it used on no-bid contracts to upgrade facilities that were later abandoned or given away to the state-run Education Achievement Authority, Davis said.

“I was just shocked to see what was going on – the abuse, the misuse, and the conflicts of interest,” Davis said. “We are in such debt, and it’s been caused by the emergency managers and the governor.”

The complaint also accuses Gov. Snyder of using the state’s emergency manager law to strip voting rights and power from local elected officials in some of the state’s majority-black school districts, creating “two separate and unequal school systems” across the state. It alleges a larger effort to “dismantle and privatize” DPS and other districts under state control.

Neither Gov. Snyder’s nor DPS emergency manager Darnell Earley’s office returned emailed requests for comment on the civil rights complaint.

However, the governor has previously said that DPS’s financial and academic difficulties would only be worsened by a return to local control.

While appointing Darnell Earley as the district’s fourth emergency manager in January, Snyder said the district needed “continuity” as his office comes up with a sweeping overhaul for Detroit’s entire education system.