Teachers' union sues Detroit schools, demands removal of emergency manager

(Reuters) - The union for Detroit public school teachers sued their district on Thursday demanding immediate removal of a state-appointed emergency manager and a return of local control with a plan to repair its crumbling buildings.

Detroit Public Schools (DPS) is under state oversight and pressure from declining enrollment. Heavy pension and debt obligations have left the district in danger of running out of cash in April.

The district’s emergency manager, Darnell Earley, previously served as emergency manager in Flint, Michigan, where growing criticism of the state and federal handling of lead contamination in tap water has become a national scandal.

The state lawsuit filed by the Detroit Federation of Teachers accuses Earley of allowing buildings and finances to deteriorate so severely that the district is no longer providing a minimally sufficient education.

“While descriptions of the conditions have shocked the world, apparently they haven’t shocked DPS and Darnell Earley into taking action,” union Interim President Ivy Bailey told a news conference.

Bailey said teachers and parents have raised health and safety concerns for years only to be snubbed by the district and its emergency managers and it was time to restore local control.

The union has said teachers are frustrated over crumbling walls, rats, mold in classrooms and student overcrowding, combined with a teacher shortage and low pay.

“Like other parents, I feel ignored by a school district that doesn’t seem to care,” said Shoniqua Kemp, a plaintiff in the lawsuit whose children go to school in an excessively hot building with no working water fountains and boarded-up windows.

The lawsuit follows a mass demonstration by teachers who called in sick on Jan. 20 in such large numbers that all but nine of the 97 public schools were forced to close that day, leaving 44,790 students out of class.

Another sick-out protest over working conditions forced about two-thirds of the schools to close on Jan. 11.

Earley said plans to address building disrepair are part of a financial investment proposal before the legislature.

“The investment of these funds will be necessary to implement a badly needed, districtwide long-term capital improvement plan,” Earley said in a statement.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has been pushing a state response to the district’s pension and debt obligations, which would require legislative approval, over court options.

Bills introduced in January in the legislature would create a new entity to run the schools and use the current DPS to retire debt.

Reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis, editing by G Crosse and Grant McCool