Bias Suit Injunction Denied
By Kathy Hulik
Federal District Court Judge Charles Joiner Friday declined to issue an injunction based on preliminary issues in the economic bias suit against the Ann Arbor Public Schools.
Joiner denied both motions sought by the plaintiffs, a group of 15 black children who live in the Green Road public housing project and attend Martin Luther King Jr. elementary school.
In a preliminary hearing held Aug. 31, the plaintiffs sought an injunction preventing the Ann Arbor Board of Education from labeling the Green Road children as handicapped until new testing and evaluations are administered.
They also argued that the suit should continue as a class action, representing all children who reside in the public housing project and who may attend King School now or in the future.
In his opinion, Joiner ruled against issuing the injunction, stating that the plaintiffs have not demonstrated substantial likelihood of success of the merits of their case.
Joiner based his opinion on a Supreme Court decision that the disproportionate impact of testing on minority students does not mean that the testing itself was a discriminatory device requiring a standard of review under the equal protection clause.
"No evidence of racially discriminatory intent has been presented to this court. From this record, it appears that the defendant procedures are rationally related to the selection of handicapped persons and that the plaintiffs have not demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the causes of their case," Joiner wrote.
Joiner also ruled that the Ann Arbor schools have not distributed federal funds unequally. In his opinion, King School, with a low minority enrollment, does not qualify for the federal funds, and the plaintiffs had not demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their claim.
Although the lawyer for the Green Road children, Gabe Kaimowitz, had not seen a copy of the ruling this morning, he commented that he had based his argument for halting the testing of Green Road children on federal law, not constitutional law, as Joiner had done.
In the matter of the federal grants, he said that numerous federal grants are involved, and he contends that some monies are still available for King School.
Joiner also denied that the suit be heard as a class action, stating that since all the children in the suit live at Green Road, they all can be identified and are a geographically distinct group.
Kaimowitz said he could understand this denial and that by asking for a class action, he was simply trying to avoid identifying further any other children by name. He said he may now be forced to do that.
Kaimowitz said he was bothered by the timing of the ruling, coming late Friday afternoon. He said neither he nor anyone in his office had received a copy of the ruling.
"I'm not faulting the court. Maybe they tried to reach our office. But I'm bother by the fact the judge would allow one side to be able to distribute and comment on the case without assuring that both sides had equal access to the opinion.
"We will definitely look to see if the court has any unwarranted bias in the case. I'm not saying that it does, but I'm personally bothered by the timing," Kaimowitz said.
School Supt. Harry Howard was pleased this morning with the results of the ruling.
"I've said all the time that when we're given an opportunity to present evidence we'll be vindicated. When we get out day in court we'll knock the other things right out of the ball park. We know many of the allegations aren't true," said Howard.
Kaimowitz also expressed optimism. "We have a very difficult case to establish, but we think we will establish it," he said.
The suit, filed July 28 by the student Advocacy Center, charges that King School failed to meet the need of the poor children while catering to middle class children. It accuses school employees of mislabeling the low-income students as handicapped and placing them in special education classes.
It asks for direct monetary damages of $300,000 from Howard and two other school employees. The board is scheduled to file its response to the charges with the court on Monday.
Joiner has set Monday as the date to receive both parties' pleadings in the suit. Howard said he expects the board's attorney to make a motion to dismiss.