Detroit Public Schools Sues State Officials for Civil Rights Violations

By Kenrya Rankin Apr 11, 2016

Another week, another lawsuit naming Michigan Governor Rick Snyder as the defendant.

The Detroit Free Press reports that on April 7, the Detroit Public Schools board of education filed a federal lawsuit against the state. The suit alleges that the state’s emergency management of the district resulted in the violation of students’ civil rights.

The suit—which was filed with the court for the Eastern District of Michigan’s Southern Division—is a class action meant to represent the roughly 58,000 children who attended schools in the district from 2011 to the present. It alleges that students “have experienced and will continue to experience serious and permanent damage caused by defendants’ willful and wanton callous indifference to their educational needs.”

The suit names two-dozen plaintiffs, including Governor Rick Snyder, the three emergency managers who oversaw the district at various points and several principals who were recently indicted for taking nearly $1 million in kickbacks. It says that officials violated the Equal Protection and Substantive Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It also specifies that not only have the emergency managers improperly managed the district, but that race was a factor in deciding which of the state’s districts would be under their unchecked control:

The defendant emergency managers charged with financial reform did not have, nor were they supported by, the necessary expertise to manage non-financial aspects of municipal government, including public school districts. …

Michigan’s emergency managers Law and related practices were used to compromise and damage the quality of education received by all DPS students with life-long consequences in the name of financial urgency. …

The emergency manager statutes both in principle and in practice have had a callously disparate impact on DPS children, most particularly children of color. A majority, 50.4 percent, of the state’s 1,413,320 African-American residents are now ruled by unelected emergency managers including the Detroit Public Schools and its current proportionality of 87 percent African-American and 7 percent Hispanic students. Both Public Act 4 and Public Act 436 have been applied in a discriminatory manner. The state has imposed emergency managers on cities with majority or near majority African-American populations, even though there were non-African-American cities with the same or worse “Fiscal Health Score,” as defined by defendant state treasurer.

The district’s student population is 97.6 percent people of color (83.9 percent Black, 12 percent Hispanic) and a full 80 percent of all students qualify for free or reduced lunch, which is determined by household income.

The 102-page suit asks the court to certify the class of plaintiffs, order a trial and require the defendants to pay compensatory and punitive damages.