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Dozens of Michigan schools could get some tough news Friday

Dozens of struggling Michigan schools could get some dreaded news Friday morning when the state releases its annual top-to-bottom school rankings.

The annual list comes with serious new consequence for schools this year as state officials say they’ll be moving to shut down schools that have posted years of rock-bottom test scores.

The ramped up consequences are the result of a law passed last year that requires the state to shutter every school in the city of Detroit that has been in the bottom five percent of state rankings for three or more years.

The only exceptions allowed in the law are cases where closing a school would represent an “unreasonable hardship” to kids.

The mandatory closures don’t apply to the rest of the state but a top official in the state’s School Reform Office told Chalkbeat last summer that it planned to apply the same standards to schools across Michigan.

“We want to be fair to all districts and all kids,” Dan LaDue, assistant director for accountability for the School Reform Office, told Chalkbeat in August. “Anytime you talk about closure, that’s going to upset people but we’re not here to make everybody happy. We’re here to hold adults responsible for the performance of students.”

The Michigan Department of Education says it plans to release the top-to-bottom list, which is calculated based on test scores and other factors, at 11 a.m. Friday.

The School Reform Office, which has the authority to impose consequences including closure on struggling schools, says it plans to make announcements soon after the list is released.

In Detroit, there were five charter schools and 27 district schools that were in the bottom five percent of state rankings in 2014 and 2015. A third strike when the 2016 list comes out Friday could spell trouble for these schools.

If closures are announced, the issue is expected to end up in court as school leaders across the state have vowed to fight closures.

The legal issues are especially complicated in Detroit where the city’s main school district is now technically a new legal entity called the Detroit Public Schools Community District. The district obtained a legal opinion last summer that found its status as a new district means it won’t have three years of state rankings until 2020. Gov. Rick Snyder initially said he would follow that opinion and took Detroit district schools off the chopping block.

But Attorney General Bill Schuette issued a legal opinion in September that says the law does apply to Detroit schools and asserted that the state is required to close the city’s persistently low performing school.