Detroit Schools File Suit Against Michigan To Stop Potential Closures
Lori Higgins, Detroit Free Press, March 20, 2017
"Papers will be served today," Alycia Meriweather, the interim superintendent for the district, said during a meeting Monday morning with parents and community members at Central Collegiate Academy.
"Just know, we're standing with you against closure by the" School Reform Office, Meriweather said. "If any school closures are to happen, it should be at the behest of the elected school board. That's our position."
The state school reform office in January identified 38 schools for potential closure because the schools have ranked in the bottom 5% academically for the three straight years. The list included 16 schools in the Detroit district.
The Detroit board of education voted last week to take legal action, more than a month after giving the district administration the authority to pursue a possible suit. The 147-page lawsuit was formally filed Friday.
The lawsuit comes despite a deal made two weeks ago by the Michigan Department of Education, which operates independently of the reform office. The MDE told districts with schools on the list that they could avoid closure if they enter into a partnership agreement with the state to turn around the schools.
The lawsuit makes a number of arguments against closing schools. One is familiar: That the legislation approved in June that created the district, and left the Detroit Public Schools district intact solely to pay off debt and collect taxes, gave the district a fresh start.
"Not only do defendants lack authority to do so, their actions are based on flawed data, violations and misinterpretations," of the state school code, the lawsuit argues.
"Because the DPSCD — a brand new school district — did not operate any of the schools on any bottom 5% list for the three immediately preceding school years, the SRO cannot close them ... before July 1, 2019."
That date would be three years after the Detroit district was created.
If Baker is allowed to close schools in the district during or immediately after the current school year, "the DPSCD will never be given a proper opportunity to fulfill its intended purpose, which is to turn around its lowest achieving schools."
The argument was first made in a memo last summer by the Miller Canfield law firm, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the district. Gov. Rick Snyder supported the argument.
But in September, Attorney General Bill Schuette issued an opinion that contradicted the idea that lawmakers intended to give the district a fresh start as it relates to school closures.
“The law is clear: Michigan parents and their children do not have to be stuck indefinitely in a failing school,” Schuette said in a news release. “Detroit students and parents deserve accountability and high-performing schools. If a child can’t spell opportunity, they won’t have opportunity.”
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