Lawsuit to shut down summer school in Detroit delayed until July 27

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Detroit — An attempt to shut down summer school in Detroit has been delayed after an attorney asked for time to amend her complaint against state officials and refile the case against the district in another court.

Shanta Driver, an attorney representing students, parents and others, told Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens on Friday that she agreed to voluntarily dismiss the Detroit Public Schools Community District and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan from her lawsuit and refile the case in Wayne Circuit Court.

Driver also asked Stephens for time to amend her complaint against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and others and refile the matter by Monday in the state Court of Claims.

Stephens agreed and reset the matter for July 27 against the state defendants in the case.

The decision came after an hour-long court hearing Friday during which Driver sought a preliminary injunction to shut down summer school classes in the district due to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases. 

In legal briefs, attorneys for Detroit public schools and Whitmer are asking for the case to be dismissed. 

Workers sit among idle school buses after demonstrators blocked the driveways of the Detroit Public Schools West Side Bus Terminal to keep the buses from running on the first day of summer school, in Detroit, July 13, 2020. A lawsuit seeks to end summer school.

Elizabeth R. Husa Briggs, an assistant attorney general who represents Whitmer and other state defendants, said no state official is involved in any decision or action related to summer school operation or the claims made in the case.

"The decision to reopen schools for in-person learning is a local decision, subject to compliance with the provisions of Executive Order 2020-142," Briggs writes in her brief to have the case dismissed.

Attorneys for the district are asking the judge to dismiss the lawsuit because the school district is not a state department or agency and (DPSCD superintendent Nikolai) Vitti is a not state official.

"Accordingly, the DPSCD defendants are not subject to the Court of Claims’ exclusive jurisdiction for matters against the 'state or any of its departments, or officers,' " said Jenice C. Mitchell Ford, attorney for the district, in her filing.


The lawsuit, filed Wednesday by the group and by 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.

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.

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

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 district began offering online or in-person instruction to students on Monday. Students and teachers must wear masks, and class sizes are smaller to reduce virus risk.