LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Angered by teacher sick-outs that have caused many Detroit school closures, majority Republicans in Michigan’s Legislature on Thursday proposed — and promised to quickly pass — legislation to make it easier to deem such work stoppages illegal strikes.
The move came a day after a sick-out shut down more than 85 of the district’s roughly 100 schools, a move timed to coincide with President Barack Obama’s visit to the city. All schools were in session Thursday.
“If our current state law isn’t sufficient to prevent activists from hurting kids, it’s time we strengthen it,” said Republican Sen. Phil Pavlov of St. Clair Township, 45 miles northeast of Detroit.
Teacher strikes are illegal in Michigan. The legislation would shorten the 60-day deadline for the state Employment Relations Commission to conduct a hearing on complaints to two days.
It also would allow hearings to be held for more than one teacher at a time, empower the state superintendent to revoke their teaching certificates and impose larger fines.
In recent months, Detroit educators have stepped up efforts to protest GOP Gov. Rick Snyder’s plans for the district, its ramshackle finances, dilapidated buildings, overcrowded classrooms and their low pay.
Already, the district is run by an emergency manager appointed by Snyder. He has pushed state lawmakers to pass bills to overhaul the school district by splitting it in two, spending more than $700 million over a decade, and warned of a potential bankruptcy.
A judge on Thursday denied the district’s request for a temporary restraining order to prevent teachers from staging mass sick-outs. Michigan Court of Claims Judge Diane Stephens wrote in an order that the district’s case will be heard Monday.
The district named the Detroit Federation of Teachers’ union, activists and two dozen educators as defendants in the lawsuit that was filed Wednesday.
“We look forward to continuing to fight for our members, our community and the schools our kids deserve,” Ivy Bailey, the union’s interim president, said in a statement.
About 865 teachers called in with personal illnesses Wednesday, district spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski said. The Detroit Strike to Win Committee, a splinter group of teachers led by the former union president, had promised that schools also would be shut Thursday, but they were not.
At a meeting scheduled for later Thursday, the committee was expected to vote on strike demands it would make to the school district.
Those demands will include smaller class sizes, pay raises, adequate books and supplies, and the restoration of art, music and physical education programs, former teachers’ union president Steve Conn said.
Associated Press writer Corey Williams in Detroit contributed to this report.