Detroit Teachers Settle Case Over Poor Building Conditions

By George Khoury, Esq. on January 17, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

This week, the Detroit Public School Teachers' Union agreed to settle one of the two cases it has brought against the school district and state because of the school system's many failures. The parties were able to come to a compromise regarding claims over the poor building conditions. The settlement agreement provides for a new process to ensure that building repairs get completed in a timely fashion, and appoints an oversight committee to enforce the agreement.

The condition of some Detroit schools are so appalling that this litigation was actually necessary. Teachers complained not just about overcrowding and low pay, but also about the literal conditions of the buildings. Classrooms had mold, vermin, and were actually crumbling. While the Detroit schools are facing a funding crisis, the teachers are dismayed about the conditions that the children are subjected to. So much so that early last year, they organized a walk out that shut down nearly 90 percent of district's schools for one day.

The Right to Read

The other lawsuit being maintained by the Detroit Teachers' Union asserts that the students are being denied their constitutional right to an education. The lawsuit alleges that in five Detroit schools, there are classrooms with no teachers, and no textbooks. That children are essentially warehoused for seven hours a day, and that classrooms often don't have heating or cooling and can range from excessively hot to freezing cold.

The Constitutional Right to an Education

Technically, the United States Constitution does not guarantee the right to an education. However, the Fourteenth Amendment does provide that when public education is provided, state and local entities cannot discriminate. The right to read case being brought by the Detroit teachers alleges that the state of Michigan, which actual took control of the Detroit public schools due to a funding crisis the district faced some years back, has discriminated in the education provided to the school kids in the failing Detroit schools.

The case is still in the early stages of litigation. However, it will be interesting to see whether the state will be held liable for a local government's failure, while the state controlled that part of the local government.

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