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Detroit teachers union sues school district, EM

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

The Detroit Federation of Teachers, with support from the American Federation of Teachers, and several parents filed a lawsuit Thursday against Detroit Public Schools and its state-appointed emergency manager, Darnell Earley.

The suit is asking the court to compel DPS and Earley to repair all existing building code violations, and for the creation of an appropriately funded capital plan that will bring schools up to "21st century standards."

It also calls for Earley's removal, and returning the district to local control. It's been run by a series of 4 emergency managers over the past 7 years.

"The state has brought the school district to its knees, and now it's time to give up the reins," said DFT interim President Ivy Bailey.

Bailey says Earley simply hasn't responded to the "crisis" conditions in the schools, despite formal complaints and protests by teachers for nearly a year. She says at this point, their only recourse is the courts.

“There’s no place for us to go. For parents to go, for anyone in this community to go, to voice their concerns--there’s nowhere to go," said Bailey.

The suit says DPS has allowed schools to deteriorate, forcing students “to spend their young lives in deplorable surroundings, risking their health and safety in the process, and imposing on students and their teachers an atmosphere that interferes with their securing a minimally sufficient education.”

The complaint lists some of the conditions in Detroit’s schools, which include black mold, bacteria, freezing cold or overly hot classroom temperatures, rodent and insect infestations, exposed wiring and falling debris.

Shoniqua Kemp is the mother of 2 students at Osborn High School, where a recent city building inspection found 30 code violations.

She spoke directly to Earley, Gov. Snyder, and state legislators.

“Think about what it would mean if that was your child, [that] had to endure these conditions...these deplorable conditions that are not fit for, sometimes, an animal," Kemp said. "Thank about what that would mean to you, take what little monies there might be, and fix the problem. Find a way.

“If you don’t want to do the job, then you should leave.”

The district faces more than $550 million  in short-term operational debt, and it may be unable to make payroll by April.

It needs what amounts to a state bailout to avoid insolvency. But so far, Gov. Snyder's plan for a bankruptcy-style restructuring hasn't gained much traction in the stage legislature.

The plaintiffs are also asking for continued "court jurisdiction over the matter to ensure the defendants are taking steps to remedy the problems" outlined in the lawsuit.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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