Conn sworn in as Detroit teachers union president

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Detroit — Firebrand activist and newly elected Detroit Federation of Teachers president Steve Conn lifted his right hand in the cold Tuesday afternoon to be sworn into office.

A gathering of nearly 50 supporters stood outside the DFT office in Midtown to witness the swearing in and to celebrate his victory.

"It's time to take a stand for justice to defend our jobs, the city of Detroit, and the future of the young people we teach," said Conn, 57. "We will continue to push for equality in education for all students in Detroit."

On Saturday, Conn was elected to lead the union of 4,000 members in a runoff, receiving 614 votes to 599 for Edna Reaves.

The initial DFT election results released Dec. 7 showed Reaves, the leader of the United Teacher Rights slate, with 390 votes for president. Conn, the candidate for the Equal Opportunity Now/By Any Means Necessary slate, received the second-most votes with 300.

Conn has taught in Detroit Public Schools since 1986, most recently teaching math at Cass Technical High School. His victory over Reaves could signal a more confrontational approach for the DFT.

Reaves, executive vice president of the local, is an associate of longtime DFT leader Keith Johnson, who retired after six years as local president.

"We need to rebuild our union and will be meeting Sunday at the Adoba Hotel in Dearborn at 2 p.m. to discuss how to make this happen," Conn said. "I want to see union representatives in every school, because right now, they're only in about 50 percent of schools."

His campaign literature described his win as "a courageous stand for hope and progress in Detroit."

"This victory represents the initiation of a new period of civil rights struggle in Detroit, a bold challenge to the segregated and unequal conditions that have only worsened during the years of hostile takeovers," the statement said.

Last week, Gov. Rick Snyder appointed the fourth emergency manager in six years, Darnell Earley, to run DPS. Earley is the former emergency manager for the city of Flint, and prior city manager of Saginaw. When he announced Earley's appointment Jan. 13, Snyder said appointing another emergency manager at DPS was not his preferred option but remains necessary.

In a statement this week, Earley said he was willing to work with Conn and the rest of the new DFT leadership.

"Detroit Public Schools' focus is on providing a quality education to its more than 47,000 students. I am committed to working with the leadership of the Detroit Federation of Teachers to ensure that we achieve this critical objective," said Earley.

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