If all else fails, sue

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Contrary as it seems, lighting a legal flame under certain bottoms (i.e. Detroit Public Schools, DPS CEO Dr. Kenneth Burnley and the Board of Education) may be what it takes to get them to put out a fire.

Parents, on behalf of 20 children scheduled to attend the new Beard Elementary School in southwest Detroit this fall, filed a class action lawsuit against the parties listed above last week. The suit alleges that district officials failed to adequately clear the site of PCBs, lead, arsenic and other hazardous substances, failed to assure parents that the soil will not harm their children and failed to involve the community in the decision-making process.

Sure, the school district held a handful of meetings (most of which were scheduled during the day, when many parents work), but by our estimation, DPS did little to involve the community or allay its fears. However, the lawsuit — which also alleges that the DPS’s actions unfairly impact Hispanic and African-American students —seems to have finally grabbed the district’s attention.

We don’t think it is coincidence that, one day before the suit was filed, DPS announced plans to help create a citizens advisory committee made of parents and other community folk, which will allow them “more input into the process of ensuring an environmentally safe facility.” The DPS also says that it will hire an independent consultant to evaluate and monitor the site for possible hazardous waste. Attorney Alma Lowry, who is with the Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice and represents the parents, says the agreement to have an independent monitor is a “major victory.” But she raises an important question: Will DPS follow through on its promise?

The parents aren’t taking any chances. The lawsuit is going forward.

Ann Mullen contributed to News Hits, which is edited by Curt Guyette. He can be reached at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]
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