Judge denies request to force end to teacher sick-outs

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Posted: Jan 25, 2016 4:18 PM
Judge denies request to force end to teacher sick-outs

DETROIT (AP) — A judge denied a second attempt by the Detroit Public Schools on Monday to obtain a temporary restraining order against teacher sick-outs that have closed dozens of buildings this month and kept thousands of students home.

State Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens said the district didn't present enough evidence to prove the teachers' union or its president had encouraged members to miss work for her to issue such an order.

Teacher strikes are illegal under Michigan law. The district filed a lawsuit last week to stop the sick-outs, which on Wednesday closed more than 85 of the district's roughly 100 schools that serve about 46,000 students. Two schools were closed Monday because of teacher absences, the district said.

Teachers are protesting their pay, overcrowded classes, supply shortages and the poor conditions in some school buildings. About 60 demonstrated outside Monday's hearing.

The district argued Monday that Detroit Federal of Teachers President Ivy Bailey and the 3,700-member union have not done enough to discourage union members from participating in the sick-outs.

"The union has an obligation to tell its members that's not a proper or legal way to deal with grievances," lawyer George Butler said.

Union attorney Marshall Widick said teachers "are free to ... engage in advocacy."

"We are going to see about getting the entire case thrown out," said Steve Conn, a high school teacher who is a leader of the Detroit Teachers' Strike to Win Committee, the group organizing the sick-outs.

Stephens had previously denied the district's emergency motion for a temporary restraining order. A preliminary hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for Feb. 16.

The Detroit district has been under state financial oversight since 2009. Gov. Rick Snyder has called for the state to commit $715 million over a decade to address the district's $500 million debt and relaunch the district under a new name.

"What I fear every day is they are going to go bankrupt," said Maria Jones-Foster, who runs a second-grade reading lab and was among the teachers protesting outside the hearing. "We're in fear of losing our jobs every day."

The sick-outs have angered majority Republicans in Michigan's Legislature. Last week, they proposed — and promised to quickly pass — legislation to make it easier to deem such work stoppages illegal strikes.

The legislation would shorten from 60 days to two days the deadline for a state commission to conduct a hearing on complaints. It also would allow hearings to be held for more than one teacher at a time, empower the state superintendent to revoke their teaching certificates and impose larger fines.