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Judge Rules in Favor of Detroit’s Teachers After District Spends Hundreds of Thousands in Legal Fees

Judge Rules in Favor of Detroit’s Teachers After District Spends Hundreds of Thousands in Legal Fees

Detroit Public Schools began its pursuit of teachers it held responsible for the sick-outs that resulted in several days of closed schools in January. While the lawsuit originally held 28 teachers responsible for the sick-outs, the case was eventually whittled down to just two: Steve Conn and Nicole Conway.

For those unfamiliar, Detroit schools were closed for several days after hundreds of teachers called out sick in a mass protest of poor working conditions. On one occasion, teachers protested news that they might not be receiving their earned salaries during the summer months.

The protests brought to light the many terrible conditions that Detroit teachers were enduring, such as buckling floors, moldy classrooms, leaky pipes and more. The images that teachers shared of disrepair on social media resulted in action- a batch of health inspections followed and forced school administrators to make necessary repairs.

Sick-outs would still continue, however, as the cash-strapped district warned teachers that the legislature's failure to approve an education reform bill would mean they might not receive pay over the summer. Teachers protested only until a district official promised under no circumstances would the district fail to pay teachers their earned salaries.

This summer, the district received backlash once again after it spent a reported $285,000 in legal fees in its pursuit of Conn and Conway.

According to The Detroit News, DPS officials opted to go outside of the in-house lawyers available to them, instead paying a premium to ensure legal persecution of Conn and Conway.

The news of the district’s legal fees circulated during a time when the district’s schools were forced to close repeatedly over the summer due to lack of air conditioning .

Over 50 schools in the district do not have air conditioning, forcing them to dismiss students early as summer temperatures rose.

The Governing.com says the district’s legal fees ultimately cost $320,000, a tab that the state picked up.

The judge who ruled against the district, Cynthia Diane Stephens, ruled in favor of the teachers because she said their protests were a demonstration of their free speech right to petition their government.

"Here, the vast majority of the speech attributable to defendants concerns complaints to the state government to rectify educational, financial and structural problems in the Detroit Public School District, and not issues concerning the rights, privileges or conditions of their employment,” she said.

Read more about the ruling here.

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor

8/22/2016

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