05/25/2012 04:29 pm ET

Detroit Teachers Union Threatens Lawsuit Against District Over Teacher Tenure, Contract Violations

The Detroit Federation of Teachers announced Friday morning that the union is preparing a "monumental" lawsuit against Detroit Public Schools that could have major implications for Michigan's recently revised teacher tenure law.

The union, which represents more than 5,000 DPS employees, including 4,100 teachers, says the suit will address teacher layoffs, interviews and evaluations that it says violate the district's 2009-2012 collective bargaining agreement.

Last year, DPS began a policy of sending layoff notices to teachers and making them reapply for their jobs, a move school officials say helped rightsize the district's staff.

But DFT President Keith Johnson alleges in a statement on the union's website that the district has failed to comply with changes in the Michigan Teacher Tenure Act that require it to develop a comprehensive process for evaluating teachers and to establish standards for staff attendance and professional development.

The union also claims the district has started holding what it calls "drive by observations" of teachers. Union leaders say the district sends retired principals to conduct brief classroom evaluations -- a move they say does not constitute a comprehensive review.

Johnson told The Huffington Post that both the union and the school district recognized the need to update the district's archaic teacher evaluation process, but he said efforts to reach out to the district on the matter had not brought any substantial results.

He said the union will not file the lawsuit until new hirings for the next school year are completed on August 27.

DPS spokesman Steven Wasko said in an email that the district would continue to engage Johnson and the DFT to keep them informed "on the procedures required under state and federal laws and the current collective bargaining agreement."

"We regret the adversarial stance that the DFT is taking publicly and understand the high level of emotions surrounding the changes mandated by law," Wasko said, adding that the current collective bargaining agreement does not preclude teacher interviews.

Flickr Photo by Kelly B.