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Judge to hear request Friday to close Detroit summer classes

Jennifer Chambers and the Associated Press
Detroit News staff and wire reports

Detroit — A judge will hear a request on Friday to shut down summer school classes in Detroit public schools over concerns over the spread of COVID-19.

Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens denied a request on Thursday for a temporary restraining order to close buildings in the Detroit Public Schools Community District to summer school courses and has scheduled hearing on a separate request for a preliminary injunction on Friday, attorney Justin Cheong told The News.

A lawsuit, filed Wednesday by students, parents, teachers and a bus driver and the organization By Any Means Necessary, asks the judge to order the district's summer school program, already underway in two dozen buildings across the city, to shut down until public health officials say they are safe to reopen.

The lawsuit alleges the district, in its decision to hold in-person summer school this week, is "showing no concern" for the lives of students, teachers and families and will "refuel" the resurgence of COVID-19 cases in Michigan and nationally.

The case is filed against district superintendent Nikolai Vitti, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and state health officials.

Vitti has said the district's reopening plan for summer school is aligned with guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control, recommendations from the governor's Return to Learn Council's Roadmap and national teachers union guidance.

BAMN attorney Shanta Driver said Vitti's statements that summer school is voluntary are not a defense.

"The buck stops somewhere. It's the board's job, it's Vitti's job to only allow students into DPSCD schools when he or they know the people will be protected from COVID-19," Driver said.

Driver said the injunction seeks to stop classes in Detroit immediately, to not reopen schools until the science says it is safe to do so and for Whitmer to issue an executive order eliminating all summer school programs across the state until it is safe to operate them.

Police on Thursday arrested at least 11 protesters who tried to block buses from picking up Detroit students, the fourth day of demonstrations against voluntary summer classes during the coronavirus outbreak.

The Detroit school district this week began offering online or in-person instruction to students. Students and teachers must wear masks, and class sizes are smaller to reduce virus risk.

Demonstrators block the driveways of the Detroit Public Schools West Side Bus Terminal in Detroit, Monday, July 13, 2020. Police on Thursday arrested at least 11 protesters.

But a group of people has appeared each day to protest the program, saying officials are putting people at risk. A lawsuit has also been filed.

“We are out here to prevent the spread of a deadly disease in our schools, to prevent that from spreading from the schools back into the community,” said teacher and protester Benjamin Royal.

Eleven people were repeatedly warned before they were arrested for blocking operations at the bus company, police Commander Arnold Williams said.

There were 630 students in classrooms Wednesday and 1,100 more participating online, Vitti said. Most students don’t ride buses to get to one of the two dozen schools.

“We are staying focused on what matters: serving children and their families and adjusting to the new normal with COVID,” Vitti said on Twitter.