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Detroit Judge Declines to Force Protesting Teachers Back to Classrooms

A judge has again denied the Detroit school district's efforts to stop sickouts that have shut down schools in recent weeks as teachers protest crowded classrooms, working conditions, pay, and benefits in the financially strapped district.

The district claims the sickouts amount to a labor strike, which is technically illegal in Michigan under state law.

The judge declined to issue a restraining order Monday against the Detroit Federation of Teachers and alleged organizers of the sickouts, marking the second time that she has denied the Detroit district's request in recent weeks.

The judge said there's no indisputable proof that the union or individual teachers are behind the mass teacher absences.

Last week, Detroit district filed a lawsuit naming nearly 30 defendants, including teachers, various grassroots groups, the union, interim union president Ivy Bailey, and former union president Steve Conn.

That day, almost 90 of the district's roughly 100 schools were closed because of sickouts. In the meantime, Republicans in the state legislature have begun pushing a proposal to crack down on the sickouts.

At Monday's hearing, the judge dropped charges against more than 20 teachers. The union, Bailey, and Conn remain as defendants in the case.

A preliminary hearing in the case has been scheduled for Feb. 16, when the district and defendants will bring forward witnesses.

The sickouts have shone the national spotlight on the city of Detroit and its schools.

Many Detroit teachers say they have no other way to force action as the district spirals into financial insolvency. Teachers are also protesting Gov. Rick Snyder's plan to overhaul the district.

The Detroit Free Press reports that city inspections of 11 district schools, spurred by the sickouts, "revealed widespread code violations, including multiple instances of rodents, mold, damaged roofs and broken glass." The city's mayor saw a mouse in the classroom during his tour of several schools this month.

Detroit schools emergency manager Darnell Earley has said the teacher protests have unfairly hurt the students by denying them access to education.

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