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Federal judge sides with 2 outspoken Detroit teachers

By The Associated Press

DETROIT — Two math teachers ousted for protesting school closings have been ordered back to the classroom.

Stephen Conn and his wife, Heather Miller, are competent teachers who were punished by Detroit Public Schools for exercising their free-speech rights, U.S. District Judge Stephen Murphy said on Nov. 6.

"We're going back to work to teach and end the injustices of education in Detroit," Conn said on Nov. 7.

"This is the definitive example of the district's rotten history of trying to silence expression. Now they've lost by a slam dunk," he said.

Murphy's 24-page decision was released Nov. 6, a day after lawyers for the Detroit district failed to appear in court for a hearing.

Conn and Miller have been on administrative leave since June 2007, about two months after a march to protest the closing of 38 schools.

Evidence shows the district's treatment of the couple was "highly impermissible, apparently dishonest and constitutionally" illegal, Murphy said.

A message seeking comment was left with the district.

The Detroit school board voted last summer to fire Conn and Miller, a decision being reviewed by the Michigan tenure commission.

With the judge's ruling, that matter may become moot, their attorney, George Washington, said.

"To give this civics lesson to kids is just a travesty," said Washington, who called the First Amendment "the most basic law of the country."


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Wendell Gorum had claimed he was fired in retaliation for exercising his free speech, but federal judge rules he had no First Amendment claim because he was acting as public employee. 02.18.08

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By David L. Hudson Jr. Bessie Givhan's 1979 Supreme Court victory still resonates in public employee free-speech cases. 06.08.06

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