Stories indexed with the term ‘ACLU’

Column: The Case for Free Public Schools

Earlier this week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan – along with two plaintiffs – filed suit against the Ann Arbor Public Schools for the school district’s plan to charge students who want to take a seventh class in a semester.

Ruth Kraut, Ann Arbor Public Schools, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ruth Kraut

The lawsuit argues that the Michigan Constitution requires a free public education for all Michigan students, and that charging for a seventh hour is unconstitutional. Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan executive director, outlined the position in an ACLU press release: “Allowing this model to continue will open the floodgates for any district in the state to charge for every conceivable part of their students’ education creating a two-tiered system in which students who have money get ahead, while those who do not fall behind.”

In early June, I wrote my first column for The Chronicle, about three aspects of the AAPS budget proposal. ["Column: Disparate Impact of AAPS Cuts?"] One of the areas I wrote about was seventh hour, a term that refers to the option of taking a seventh class during a semester, rather than the more standard six classes.

I was concerned about issues of equity – about Skyline students being able to acquire 7.5 credits in a year without paying, while Pioneer and Huron students could only earn 6 credits in a year for free. I was concerned about students losing access to the arts. I was concerned about disparate impacts.

I assumed that – as with many other proposals – this idea was poorly conceived, but legal.

A couple of days after my column was published in The Chronicle, I talked with the ACLU’s Kary Moss. (Full disclosure: Kary is a friend of mine, and we frequently discuss education issues. And that first Ann Arbor Chronicle column ended up as “Exhibit 4” in the ACLU complaint.)

Kary suggested to me that she was concerned about seventh hour, too – because she believed the move to charge tuition was unconstitutional.

Unconstitutional?! That thought had not even occurred to me. [Full Story]

Next Step in AATA Ad Lawsuit Uncertain

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board special meeting (Jan. 3, 2013): The board had a single item on the agenda for a special meeting that had been announced on Dec. 27. That item was to convene a closed session as allowed under Michigan’s Open Meetings Act – to consider pending litigation.

AATA board members: Clockwise from left bottom: Roger Kerson, Sue Gott, David Nacht, Charles Griffith, Anya Dale, Eli Cooper.

AATA board members: Clockwise from left bottom: Roger Kerson, Sue Gott, David Nacht, Charles Griffith, Jesse Bernstein, Anya Dale, Eli Cooper. (Photo by the writer.)

After about two hours in closed session, the board emerged and voted unanimously to reject – for a second time – an advertisement that had been submitted by Ann Arbor resident Blaine Coleman for placement on the sides of AATA buses. The ad included the text “Boycott ‘Israel’ Boycott Apartheid” and a graphic that depicts a scorpion-like creature.

Both the text and the image figured into reasoning for the board’s decision to reject the ad – based on a new advertising policy that the AATA board adopted in November. [See Chronicle coverage: “AATA Adopts New Advertising Policy”]

The board’s resolution stressed that there were two reasons for rejecting the advertisement, either of which the board considered to be sufficient on its own to warrant rejection. First, the proposed ad violates the policy’s provision against political advertisements. Second, the advertisement is likely to hold up a group to scorn or ridicule, according to the board’s resolution – by dint of the enclosure of the word “Israel” in quotes, and the inclusion of the image. [.pdf of new ad policy, with changes indicated]

The AATA board reconsidered the advertisement using the new policy because of a court order issued on Dec. 17. [.pdf of Dec. 17, 2012 court order] That order came from judge Mark Goldsmith of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, who’s presiding over the case. The reconsideration of the ad is part of the injunctive relief that Goldsmith is proposing, having ruled in favor of Coleman on his request for a preliminary injunction. Granting the preliminary injunction was based on Goldsmith’s finding that the AATA’s old advertising policy was in part unconstitutional. Coleman’s requested relief, however, was for the AATA to run the advertisement. Goldsmith has not yet explicitly ruled on that request.

Under the court order, the AATA had until Jan. 4 to notify Coleman of its decision on the re-submitted advertisement.

A status conference scheduled for Jan. 9 will focus on whether the injunctive relief that’s been granted thus far is sufficient, and will allow the parties to talk to each other and the judge about how they’d like to move forward. The lawsuit, filed in late 2011, has not yet proceeded to trial. However, the legal standard of review for granting Coleman’s motion for a preliminary injunction is based in part on the likelihood that Coleman would prevail, if the case were to go to trial.

Public commentary at the Jan. 3 special meeting of the AATA board was focused on the possible conflict of interest that judge Goldsmith has, given his membership in various Jewish organizations.  [Full Story]

AATA Adopts New Advertising Policy

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority special board meeting (Nov. 29, 2012): A pending lawsuit against the AATA – for refusing to allow a “Boycott ‘Israel’ Boycott Apartheid” advertisement to appear on the sides of its buses – provided the context for a special meeting of the board. A unanimous vote to approve changes to the AATA’s ad policy came after board members were briefed by outside legal counsel in a closed session. [.pdf of marked up revised AATA ad policy]

Left to right: Sue Gott, Roger Kerson, Anya Dale.

Left to right: AATA board members Sue Gott, Roger Kerson and Anya Dale. (Photo by the writer.)

Among other clarifying changes, a key clause that’s been deleted from the policy is one that previously allowed the AATA to disqualify an ad based on “good taste.”  That clause was crucial in the court’s analysis – as part of an initial ruling in the case – that the AATA’s advertising policy was unconstitutional.

The revised policy is meant still to exclude the ad that the AATA rejected, prompting the lawsuit. The change to the AATA advertising policy was characterized at the meeting as bringing the policy into compliance with a ruling from late October of this year made by the 6th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals – involving a different transit advertising case. The AATA, in a recent brief filed with the court in the current lawsuit, has argued that the 6th Circuit ruling provides support for the AATA ad policy’s “scorn and ridicule” clause.

At the Nov. 29 meeting, board chair Charles Griffith also indicated that the AATA hopes the changes to the ad policy would resolve the issues that had been brought against the AATA in connection with the lawsuit. The suit was filed a year ago by Ann Arbor resident Blaine Coleman, who’s being represented by the ACLU.

The case has not yet proceeded to trial, but the court made an initial ruling on Sept. 28 on a motion for a preliminary injunction, finding in favor of Coleman. What the court is currently weighing is the determination of appropriate relief in connection with the preliminary injunction. The court has indicated it’s willing to consider a range of possibilities – from forcing the AATA to place the ad on its buses to allowing the AATA to revise its advertising policy.

A status conference among the parties in the lawsuit is scheduled for Dec. 6. The next regularly scheduled AATA board meeting had been for Dec. 20 – which prompted the special meeting before the status conference. The AATA has argued to the court that the form of injunctive relief that’s appropriate in the case is to allow the AATA to revise its advertising policy. The status conference will now take place in the context of the AATA having already taken the step it’s argued would be appropriate.

The AATA anticipates a net of $120,000 from its advertising program for FY 2013, in a total revenue budget of roughly $32 million.

A second piece of business transacted by the board at the Nov. 29 special meeting was a resolution that acknowledged the Title VI requirements related to the AATA’s planned service improvements on Route #5, which runs down Packard toward Ypsilanti, and that set Jan. 27, 2013 as a start date for the more frequent service. Two weeks earlier – at the board’s Nov. 15, 2012 meeting – a re-programming of funds necessary to pay for the increased Route #5 service had been authorized by the board. Title VI is the civil rights legislation that in the context of public transportation requires proof that a service change has no adverse effect on disadvantaged populations.

Route #5 has two branches – between downtown Ann Arbor and downtown Ypsilanti, and between downtown Ann Arbor and the Carpenter Road Meijer. The current service level runs buses every 15 minutes on the main trunk of the two branches. It’s on the branch that is primarily within the city of Ann Arbor where frequency will be increased – with the result that service on the main trunk will be every 10 minutes.

The Route #5 item was added to the agenda the same day as the Nov. 29 meeting, in an effort to eliminate the need for the board’s regular December meeting – on Dec. 20. The Route #5 service had been the only voting item anticipated for that regular meeting, so the Dec. 20 meeting has now been cancelled.  [Full Story]

AATA Calls Special Board Meeting for Nov. 29

A special meeting of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board has been called for Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012 starting at 4 p.m. at the AATA headquarters, 2700 S. Industrial Highway. The meeting, which was announced via email on Nov. 21, did not have an agenda set until Nov. 28. The agenda includes a closed session and an item that would revise the AATA’s advertising policy. [.pdf of board packet, including revised advertising policy]

The board’s meeting comes in the context of a legal case that’s pending against the AATA for refusing to run an advertisement on the sides of its buses that states, “Boycott ‘Israel.’” The initial substantive ruling in the case went against the AATA, when the judge … [Full Story]

AATA Ad Case: Court Grants ACLU Motion

A court ruling on Friday did not settle the issue of whether the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority must run an anti-Israel ad on the side of its buses.

However, the Sept. 28 ruling – by judge Mark Goldsmith of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan – did deny AATA’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, filed last year on Nov. 28.

Advertisement for a TV series on the side of an Ann Arbor Transportation Authority bus.

Advertisement for a TV series on the side of an Ann Arbor Transportation Authority bus.

The court granted the American Civil Liberties Union motion, filed on behalf of plaintiff Blaine Coleman, for a preliminary injunction against the AATA. But the court stopped short of granting the ACLU’s requested relief, which was to force the AATA to run the ad.

The court’s ruling calls forcing the AATA to run the ad “certainly a legitimate relief option.” However, another possibility sketched out by the court would be to have the AATA craft a “new [advertising] policy without the constitutional infirmities identified by this opinion.” On that scenario, the court allowed the possibility that the injunctive relief to which Coleman would be entitled could be this: Reconsideration of his ad under a revised advertising policy that is constitutional.

A decision on the relief to be granted to Coleman and the ACLU will emerge from a process defined in the Sept. 28 ruling.  The ACLU has until Oct. 15 to file a brief on what it thinks the proper remedy and relief should be. From the time the ACLU files that brief, the AATA will have 14 days to respond. The court will then weigh those written briefs before making a decision on relief, and might schedule a hearing before deciding that issue. [.pdf of Sept. 28, 2012 court ruling on AATA advertising case[Full Story]

AATA Gets Countywide Task Force Report

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (April 19, 2012): Recently appointed to the board, Sue Gott’s first AATA board meeting was marked by three action items.

Sue Gott University Planner

Sue Gott takes her seat for the first time at the board table of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. (Photos by the writer.)

First was the election of a new board treasurer, David Nacht, in the wake of two relatively recent resignations from the board – former board treasurer Sue McCormick and Rich Robben. Nacht was elected treasurer though he was absent from the meeting; however, based on remarks from board chair Jesse Bernstein, Nacht had agreed in advance to serve in that capacity.

The board also formally received the report from a financial task force on funding for an expanded, countywide governance and service area. The task force is currently “on hold” following its Feb. 29, 2012 meeting, when it made its recommendations to the AATA. A few days after that task force meeting, the Ann Arbor city council ratified its part of a four-party agreement – between the AATA, the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County – that provides a framework for possible transition to a new governance structure for the AATA.

Both the resolution to receive the report, as well as  remarks at the board table during the meeting, made clear that the AATA board isn’t committing to an unconditional acceptance of every recommendation made by the task force. Rather, the task force’s recommendations will inform the board’s decision-making.

Also related to possible countywide expansion, at the April 16 meeting, the announcement was made of a special board meeting set for Thursday, April 26 at AATA headquarters, 2700 South Industrial Highway. The purpose of the meeting will be for the board to vote on adoption of a five-year service plan. The plan would be part of a proposal that is eventually put before the general electorate, who must ratify whatever funding plan is used for an expanded transportation authority.

AATA CEO Michael Ford indicated that the working name for the new transportation authority, if one is formed through the four-party agreement, is “Washtenaw Area Transportation Authority.”

The board also made a decision on an unarmed security guard contract that was impacted by the AATA’s adoption of a living wage standard. The hourly wages in the contract now meet the city of Ann Arbor living wage standard, adopted by the AATA board at its June 16, 2011 meeting. The need to bring the wages up to the living wage standard resulted in an increase that met the threshold requiring the board to approve it.

The board also received its usual range of updates and reports from its CEO and committees. Those included recent ridership numbers, an update on the lawsuit that was filed last year against the AATA over advertising issues, the proposed north-south commuter rail known as WALLY, and the AATA’s response to the auditor’s report.

During the meeting, Ford reported on discussions between AATA and the Ann Arbor Public Schools that have led to a preliminary agreement to replace three high school bus routes with existing AATA service – one route each for Huron, Pioneer and Skyline high schools. According to Ford, the change would allow AAPS and the Washtenaw Intermediate School District – which currently handles bus services for AAPS – to eliminate three buses and reduce costs. [Full Story]

Lawsuit Filed Over Rejected AATA Bus Ad

On Nov. 28, 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a lawsuit against the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority in U.S. District Court over an advertisement the transit agency refused to accept for the sides of its buses. [.pdf of complaint] ACLU of Michigan staff attorney Dan Korobkin told The Chronicle by phone that on Nov. 29 a motion will be filed with the court asking for a preliminary injunction, to compel AATA to run the ad.

The ad features the text “Boycott Israel” and “Boycott Apartheid,” with an image depicting a scorpion-like creature with a skull for a head. At its Nov. 17 meeting, the AATA board voted to affirm the rejection of the ad, inviting Blaine Coleman … [Full Story]

Column: Ban the Box, Hire Fairly

In the final installment of The Washtenaw Jail Diary, the former inmate writes: “What I would do after my release, I had no idea. Who would hire a convicted felon in a lousy economy?”

ban box graphic

Typical felony box on an employment application.

The fact is, not many employers will. And that has an impact on the likelihood that former prisoners will find their way back into the corrections system.

In 2008, approximately 12,500 citizens returned from prison to the communities of Michigan. Within two years, nearly half of them will return to prison.

And research by the Justice Policy Center at The Urban Institute has shown that a principal factor in such high recidivism is a lack of employment opportunities. It is not a lack of adequate qualifications, but rather the social stigma surrounding a felony conviction that prevents many ex-prisoners from landing a job – and the lack of a job that leads them to offend again.

Social service programs can assist ex-offenders in finding housing, accessing mental/physical health treatment, and job-readiness training.

However, it is employers who must ultimately step up and give all qualified individuals a fair opportunity for jobs, if ex-prisoners are to have a fair chance to become stable providers for themselves and their families.

One way to ensure a fair shot is to prohibit discrimination based on criminal history – by banning that box on application forms that requires applicants to check it if they’ve been convicted of a crime. [Full Story]