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Judge denies DPS injunction in teacher sick-out suit

The Detroit News

A judge has denied a Detroit Public Schools request for an injunction involving a lawsuit against teachers who the district claims instigated massive teacher sickouts earlier in the year.

In January, the district sued ousted Detroit Federation of Teachers President Steve Conn, East English Village Academy High School teacher Nicole Conaway, more than 20 other teachers, the Detroit Federation of Teachers and its interim president, Ivy Bailey, and organized sickout supporters such as DPS Teachers Fight Back and By Any Means Necessary.

DPS filed the complaint after periodic sickouts starting in November closed dozens of schools in the state’s largest district.

All of the defendants except Conn and Conaway were dismissed from the suit. DPS argued that the teacher actions amounted to illegal strikes under state law.

The district had sought an injunction to ensure compliance with an emergency manager order against engaging in strikes or work stoppages.

The district alleged they violated the Public Employment Relations Act of 1947 by making statements DPS says publicly urged teachers to take part in the sickouts.

But their argument was “offensive to fundamental rights of free speech,” Judge Cynthia Stephens wrote in a ruling Thursday. “Any injunction based on defendants’ exercise of their free speech right to petition their government would run afoul of First Amendment protections.”

In determining whether to issue injunctive relief, the court found that the district failed to meet its “burden of establishing that an injunction should (be) issue(d).”

“The proofs offered by plaintiff, to show that either party was absent without excuse, are not persuasive and are, at best, double hearsay. The Court does not find them reliable.”

Detroit Public Schools officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday night.

In a statement, Conn said: “Of course, we’re very, very happy with the decision but not at all surprised. (Emergency Manager Steven) Rhodes and (Gov. Rick) Snyder did not have any legal leg to stand on in this case. Pursuing it was a colossal waste of public funds.”

Last month, The Detroit News reported that the Michigan Department of Treasury said it would pay more than $300,000 in legal fees for the case.