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Detroit school district prepares to sue over threatened school closures

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

The Detroit Public Schools Community District is prepared to sue the state if it moves ahead on its threat to shut down some low-performing schools.

The district’s school board approved the potential lawsuit at a meeting Wednesday night.

DPSCD has 16 schools that the State School Reform Office has named persistently low-performing, and at risk for closure after this school year.

But the district says the state shouldn’t shut those schools down. And it’s prepared to go to court to stop it.

Iris Taylor is the president of Detroit’s newly-elected school board, which just took power after nearly eight years of state control. She says the district still wants to work with the state, and implement rapid turnaround plans for the troubled schools.

But if that doesn’t work out, Taylor says they have a legal opinion in hand from a Detroit law firm, Miller Canfield, that argues closing any of the district’s schools right now is illegal.

“And at the point where we feel it’s appropriate to initiate that decision, we’ll be ready to go. It’s been authorized,” Taylor said.

That legal opinion, issued late last summer—initially embraced by Gov. Snyder’s office, but rejected by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette—argued that since DPSCD is technically a new district after a state restructuring of Detroit schools, the SSRO can’t shut down any of its schools for at least three years.

Board members and district officials also point out that the state has shut down more than 150 Detroit schools since 2009. They say closing any more would impose “serious hardship” on too many students.

Interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather says the district will work with those 16 schools to implement rapid turnaround plans. She says everyone is “keenly aware” those schools need help, and they should get it.

“There’s going to be some very different approaches that are being made under local control. And our whole point is right now, this should not be decided by anyone but the locally elected, empowered school board,” Meriweather said.

“I don’t work in this district to close schools. I work in this district, and I took this job, to improve schools, and to make things better for children.”

The district also plans to keep making the case that the state should grant hardship exemptions to the schools in question. The SSRO has said final decisions on school closures will be made in about a month.

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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