Teachers union, Bailey dismissed from sickout suit
A judge has dismissed the Detroit Federation of Teachers and its interim president from a lawsuit filed by Detroit Public Schools that aims to stop teacher sickouts in the state’s largest district.
Judge Cynthia Stephens of the Michigan Court of Claims made the ruling Thursday during a hearing on the lawsuit.
After her ruling, she set March 7 for a hearing to receive testimony on whether a preliminary injunction should be issued against former DFT president Steve Conn and DPS teacher Nicole Conaway, who have publicly urged teachers to stage sickouts and remain defendants in the suit.
“The district is disappointed in the judge’s decision to dismiss the DFT,” DPS spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski said in a statement. “However, we look forward to being able to prove our allegations against the perpetrators of the wildcat strikes that have taken 12 days of instruction away from the more than 46,000 students of Detroit Public Schools.”
Following the hearing, Bailey said she “felt good” about the judge’s ruling.
“We’ve still got a lot of work to do,” she said. “I think this was just a waste of time. The focus should be on the future of DPS. Now I have time to get back to the work that needs to be done.”
Marshall Widick, lawyer for the DFT and Bailey, said he was “very pleased.”
“The judge gave a carefully considered decision,” he said. “What she said was that Ivy Bailey and the DFT did not violate (the Public Employment Relations Act).”
Shanta Driver, a lawyer for Conn and Conaway, said the job of the lawyers now is to gather witnesses for next month’s hearing.
“The other side has to be able to show that what this did was create irreparable harm so they will bring in somebody to say they lost money,” Driver said. “But if there are lost days, teachers must make them up, and they don’t get paid, so there is no money lost. They can make a statement that the district lost money (as a result of the sickouts), but now they have to prove it.”
Driver concluded: “From the beginning, this case has been a case to limit the speech and organizing efforts of Steve Conn and Nicole Conaway.”
Conn, despite the case against him not being settled Thursday, remained defiant after the hearing, blasting Gov. Rick Snyder and retired bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes, who is in line to become the district’s next state-appointed leader.
“The young people in this city deserve the same quality education provided in predominately white suburbs,” Conn said. “This dictatorship has ended, and we’re going to continue to fight. On March 7, we’ll be putting (Gov. Rick) Snyder on trial. And Rhodes has got to go. He’s a bankruptcy judge and a charter proponent who is the next emergency manager.
“We also want the mayor to get out of the way and let the teachers do what we need to do. We will continue to fight for democracy.”
Conn characterized Thursday’s hearing as “an attempt to silence me and my First Amendment rights, and to help the governor implement his segregation and Jim Crow plans in Detroit.”
Conaway, a teacher at East English Village, also expressed opposition to Snyder’s plans for the district, including reports that Skillman Foundation CEO Tonya Allen will join a DPS transition team under Rhodes.
“Tonya Allen needs to get out of the way and let the young people have their say and we need to have an elected school board,” she said. “This is a crisis of fundamental democracy. It is a fundamental breach of democracy.”
At a hearing last month, Stephens refused a request from DPS to issue a temporary restraining order against the DFT, Bailey or Conn.
The DPS complaint argues that the sickouts are essentially teacher strikes, which are illegal in Michigan. The complaint originally named 23 teachers as defendants, plus two teachers groups and the activist group By Any Means Necessary; all were previously dismissed as defendants.
The district’s complaint alleges that more than 31,000 of 46,000 DPS students have missed at least one day of school as a result of the sickouts, which began in November. On Jan. 20, a sickout forced DPS to close 88 of its 97 schools.
Teachers who joined the sickouts have cited poor building conditions, including mold, leaky roofs, rodent infestations and other problems. Conn’s supporters, including members of BAMN, also have said they engaged in the sickouts to fight state control of the district and protest Snyder’s plans to restructure DPS.
“This was never about mushrooms growing on the walls in classrooms,” Conn said. “It’s so much more than that and the struggle continues.”