Detroit parents ask court to bar uncertified teachers

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — A group of Detroit parents are suing the new school district’s emergency manager and interim superintendent to prevent the possible hiring of uncertified teachers, saying a state law allowing the use of such instructors would treat their children like “second class citizens.”

A civil suit, filed Tuesday in Wayne County Circuit Court on behalf of six parents and their minor children, contends certain sections of the six tie-bar bills creating the new Detroit Public Schools Community District, including a provision allowing the use of uncertified teachers, are “onerous and unconstitutional.”

The parents — Aliya Moore, Dorothea Nicholson, Sherry Lawrence, Yolanda Peoples, Dawn Pauling and Eileene Gordon-King — want the court to take action that would ensure emergency manager Steven Rhodes and interim superintendent Alycia Meriweather won’t use uncertified teachers.

Rhodes and Meriweather are managing the district until a new school board takes office Jan. 1. That board will then operate the district, with oversight from a financial review commission.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs say the $617 million legislative package that bailed out the debt-ridden Detroit Public Schools includes language making the city’s new district the only one in Michigan that can hire uncertified teachers.

That provision, they contend, “treats every minor child of the old Detroit Public Schools as well as every other child who will attend the new Community Schools District, as a second class citizen.”

But Chrystal Wilson, a district spokeswoman, stressed Wednesday that Rhodes and Meriweather have “said on numerous occasions that they will not hire uncertified teachers.” Wilson declined to address the lawsuit, saying the district cannot comment on pending litigation.

Nevertheless, the plaintiffs argue if the laws go unchallenged, it will enable an “unequal and separate education system” for the city’s public schools, violating due process and equal protection rights under the federal and state constitutions.

Under state law, school districts can employ full- or part-time noncertificated, nonendorsed teachers with appropriate degrees and experience for designated courses in grades 9-12, including science and foreign language classes.

The parents are asking the court to find the provision unlawful and grant an injunction that would prevent the district from hiring noncertified teachers now or under future leadership.

“It is recognized that the new irrational policy of permitting the hiring of non-endorsed, non-certified teachers may not begin until January, 2017, but the decision of the parents as to where to send their children for the entire school year needs to be made within three weeks,” the lawsuit reads.

Gov. Rick Snyder signed the DPS rescue package in June. The plan, approved by the Republican-led Legislature over opposition from Detroit legislators and other Democrats, pays off $467 million in operating debt and provides $150 million in startup funding for the city’s new debt-free district.

The bills also strengthen anti-strike provisions to discourage teacher “sickouts” and move educators to a merit pay system.

An existing Financial Review Commission, established after the city’s bankruptcy, will be expanded to provide continued oversight of the Detroit schools, which have been run by a series of state-appointed emergency managers since 2009.