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Are Detroit's sick-outs legal? School district takes teachers to court.

Teachers in Detroit have held a series of sick-outs to protest working conditions in the city’s schools, keeping thousands of students at home. A judge on Monday will consider the district’s bid to halt the absences.

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    Western International High School teacher Debrah Baskin of Southfield and other teachers from Detroit area schools protest outside the Cobo Center, Jan. 20, only hours before President Obama's visit to the auto show. Faced with another massive sick-out by teachers, the Detroit school district filed a lawsuit Wednesday to try to stop absences that have kept thousands of students at home and left parents scrambling for child care. A judge on Monday is set to hear the district's bid to stop the absences.
    Todd McInturf/Detroit News/AP
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Detroit teachers on Monday plan to rally outside a courthouse where a judge is set to hear a case that could force them to stop skipping class to protest working conditions in the city’s public schools.

The so-called "sick-outs" have led to the closure of dozens of Detroit schools over the past two weeks, keeping thousands of students from going to class. On Wednesday, the Detroit school district filed a lawsuit to stop the absences, but a judge refused to issue the temporary restraining order that would have halted the sick-outs immediately.

The judge on Monday will consider the district’s request for a preliminary injunction – and representatives from both sides of the issue have expressed intention to forge ahead with their cause.  

“The DFT [Detroit Federation of Teachers] is pleased that the court denied the district’s request for an immediate restraining order, and we look forward to keep fighting for our members, our community, and the schools our kids deserve,” said DFT interim president Ivy Bailey in a statement.

“It’s extremely important that the court play a role in the resolution of this issue,” said Michelle Zdrodowski, spokeswoman for Detroit Public Schools (DPS), in a statement. “We look forward to the opportunity to inform the court of the serious effects that these continued sick-outs have on the district, its students and their families at the hearing on Monday.”

Among the concerns teachers have raised include pay and benefit cuts, class sizes, and the city’s ongoing struggle to manage the district’s debt – as well as cold classrooms, water-logged gymnasiums, and facilities infested with rodents and covered in mold.

“The conditions in this school are inhuman, deplorable, dilapidated,” said Detroit teacher Lakia Wilson to WXYZ Detroit. “It’s not healthy. We are literally sick.”

Mayor Mike Duggan (D) has validated the teachers’ concerns but his power to enforce change is limited; Detroit schools have been under state oversight for the past seven years, run by an emergency manager appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.

Governor Snyder has attempted to restructure the Detroit school system over the years, but the legislature has so far been unable to reach an agreement on his plan, which would involve a $715 million state investment to offset the district's $500 million debt and reorganize the entire system under a new name, as The Monitor has reported.

Since the sick-outs, however, state lawmakers have tried to step in. On Thursday, legislators proposed legislation that would place such work stoppages in the category of illegal strikes.

“If our current state law isn't sufficient to prevent activists from hurting kids, it's time we strengthen it,” said state Sen. Phil Pavlov (R) of St. Clair Township, 45 miles northeast of Detroit.

This report contains material from The Associated Press.

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