A group of teachers, students and parents announced a lawsuit Thursday against Detroit Public Schools and an emergency manager named Darnell Earley over the school conditions that have inspired massive sick-out protests in recent weeks. The Detroit Federation of Teachers, along with its state and national components, was requesting the court force the school system to immediately address any violations in building code, come up with a new capital plan, give control of the district back over to local authorities and remove Earley from power.
The lawsuit asserts that the system and Earley, who has also been criticized for his role in the ongoing Flint water crisis, have "forced Detroit’s school-age children to spend their young lives in deplorable surroundings risking their health and safety in the process and imposing on students and their teachers an atmosphere that interferes with their securing a minimally sufficient education." The document goes on to detail the conditions in question, which include bullet holes, exposed wires, black mold, insect infestations and classrooms that are too cold.
Teacher sick-outs have forced dozens of schools to close this month, with Wednesday's protests alone canceling classes at 85 of roughly 100 institutions, the Associated Press reported. Detroit Public Schools has twice attempted — and twice failed — to get a judge to stop the demonstrations, which are illegal under state law.
The Detroit school system serves more than 47,000 children and first went under emergency management in 2009. Earley is the fourth emergency manager to be appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder in the crisis so far. But the situation could worsen: The school system has said the district will run out of money by April, the Detroit Free Press reported.
At least 11 of the plaintiffs identified in Thursday's lawsuit were minors attending local schools. "We send mixed messages to our children when we tell them that a great education is the gateway to a bright future yet make them sit for hours every day in abysmal, often dangerous classroom conditions," American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said in a news release. "Detroit public schools should be places where parents want to send their children, teachers want to teach and kids want to attend and learn.”