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Judge Dismisses Detroit School District's Lawsuit Against Teachers' Union

A Michigan judge has dismissed the Detroit Federation of Teachers and its interim president from a lawsuit filed by the Detroit school system that aimed to stop teacher sickouts in the state's largest district. 

The Detroit schools filed the lawsuit in January against teachers, grassroots groups, and the union, seeking an injunction to stop the mass protests that have closed dozens of schools over the past two months.

The Detroit schools argued that the sickouts are really strikes, which are illegal in Michigan. The union denied that it was behind the sickouts, but teachers have been using the mass absences to call attention to the district's decaying buildings, large class sizes, and declining pay and benefits.

"We are grateful for the court's decision today," the union wrote in a statement. "Make no mistake--it makes clear to the district that it shouldn't use a court or a frivolous lawsuit to stop educators or their union from raising important education, health and safety issues like the deplorable conditions of our schools."

Although the case against the union has been dismissed, the court will proceed with the school district's suit against two teachers, Nicole Conaway and Steven Conn, a former union president. The two are accused of encouraging the strikes.

The lawsuit is just one facet of the ongoing legal struggle between teachers and leadership of the troubled state-run district.

The Detroit union, along with the American Federation of Teachers, has filed a lawsuit against Detroit schools and outgoing Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, alleging that the district has failed to "provide a minimally adequate education and to properly maintain the schools." Earley's last day on the job is Feb. 29.

Former federal judge Steven Rhodes will take over as Earley's successor. During his tenure as a federal judge, Rhodes managed the city of Detroit's bankruptcy case. Rhodes will be the fifth emergency manager of the Detroit school system, which has been under state oversight since March 2009.

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