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Judge Rules Against Detroit Schools in Teacher Sickout Case

A judge has ruled against the Detroit school system in a lawsuit targeting educators accused of encouraging sickouts that closed dozens of campuses last school year.

Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens ruled that the district interpreted state law in a way that's "offensive to fundamental rights of free speech," the Detroit Free Press reports.

The district accused former Detroit Federation of Teachers President Steve Conn and teacher Nicole Conaway of illegally encouraging the sickouts that closed scores of schools during the past school year.

Backers said the sickouts, where teachers call in sick en masse, were protests designed to call attention to the district's financial woes and deplorable building conditions.

Lawyers for the Detroit schools said the sickouts were really teacher strikes, which are technically illegal under state law, and sought an injunction to immediately halt them.

Now, months after refusing to issue a restraining order against the teachers union to stop the sickouts, Judge Stephens has essentially shut down the lawsuit.

"Here, the vast majority of the speech attributable to defendants concerns complaints to the state government to rectify educational, financial and structural problems in the Detroit Public School District, and not issues concerning the rights, privileges or conditions of their employment," Stephens wrote.

"Any injunction based on defendants' exercise of their free speech right to petition their government would run afoul of First Amendment protections."

The Michigan Department of Treasury covered Detroit's legal fees for the lawsuit. As of mid-July, the state had already agreed to pay nearly $320,000 in the lawsuit.

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