Detroit’s teacher sick-out case has received a verdict, and the teachers won. On Friday, Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens rendered her decision on the lawsuit filed by the Detroit Public Schools against two teachers – Steve Conn and Nicole Conaway.
The district claimed that Conn and Conaway had pushed other instructors to take part in sick-outs that closed almost 100 schools earlier this year. The lawsuit was filed by the Detroit Public Schools, now called the Detroit Public Schools Community District, in January 2016 against 28 defendants, most of whom were teachers.
Stephens had quickly dismissed the suits against almost all of the accused, and many were withdrawn by the district, leaving only Conn and Conaway to face the music. The lawsuit claimed that the teachers caused more than 88 of the 100 schools to close after a majority of teachers stayed home and called in sick.
The teachers told school officials and local media that they were protesting to draw awareness to poor building conditions, low wages, and other issues making it hard for them to educate their students properly. However, lawyers for the Detroit Public Schools Community District stated that the teachers’ actions were unlawful in the following statement:
“The sick-outs were illegal strikes under the Michigan Public Employment Relations Act (PERA). Conn and Conaway of encouraging the sick-outs and sought an injunction against them. Both have been outspoken critics of state-appointed emergency management of the district.”
In her ruling, Stephens said the district did not prove that Conn and Conaway violated PERA, and shared:
“Here, the vast majority of the speech attributable to defendants concerns complaints to the state government to rectify educational, financial and structural problems in the Detroit Public School District, and not issues concerning the rights, privileges or conditions of their employment.”
“Any injunction based on defendants’ exercise of their free speech right to petition their government would run afoul of First Amendment protections. The district’s argument that the defendants were precluded from even saying they approved of work stoppages goes far beyond the scope of PERA and such an interpretation is offensive to fundamental rights of free speech.”
The state of Michigan will pay the district’s legal costs, which came up to a whopping $320,000. The city was happy to announce a set of changes that took place this summer:
“Detroit Public Schools is now officially called the Detroit Public Schools Community District, a new, debt-free district created July 1 as part of sweeping legislation aimed at reforming public education in the city. “
The public is split on the ruling.