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DPS takes teachers, union to court in effort to stop sickouts

Jan 20, 2016

DPS emergency manager Darnell Earley.
Credit Detroit Public Schools

The Detroit Public Schools wants to force teachers to stop ongoing “sickout” protests.

The district has asked the Michigan Court of Claims to stop the rolling protests that closed 88 Detroit schools Wednesday.

"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, adding: “There will be no further comment until we receive direction from the court."

The district is seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to stop the sickouts, which it believes are illegal strikes.

The motion names the Detroit Federation of Teachers, several informal groups helping organize the sickouts, and a number of individual teachers.

DPS teacher and DFT representative Patti McCoin says the union hasn’t organized or condoned the sickouts. But she says they’ve gained momentum because teachers had no other way to be heard.

“All these issues have been over and over and over again, for years,” McCoin said. “And I think people finally got fed up, and wanted to do something to draw attention to the issues.”

Those issues include overcrowded classrooms, unsafe and dilapidated buildings, and frozen pay.

There’s also concern about Gov. Snyder’s bankruptcy-style plan for the district, which has been run by state-appointed emergency managers for nearly seven years.

Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation director Angela Reyes, who also co-chaired the recent Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren, said she’d normally want teachers back in class, but “these are not normal times.”

“And the teachers have managed to bring the light to some really desperate situations in the city of Detroit, because the legislators have not moved,” Reyes said. “They’ve known we’ve been in crisis for a long time, and they haven’t done anything.”

The district needs what amounts to a rescue package from Lansing soon.

But DPS officials say the sickouts make the state legislature less inclined to help out, despite pressure from Gov. Snyder, emergency manager Darnell Earley, and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.