Suit: Michigan Violating Detroit Students' Right to Literacy

The first-of-its-kind suit accuses the state of violating students' rights.

ByJ.J. Gallagher
September 14, 2016, 2:45 AM
PHOTO: The state of Michigan is being sued over the poor reading skills of Detroit students at five schools, including two charter schools.
Renee Schenkman, a former teacher at Experiencia Preparatory Academy, talks to the media in English and Spanish as several attorneys, teachers, parents and union officials hold a news conference in front of the federal courthouse in Detroit, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. The state of Michigan is being sued over the poor reading skills of Detroit students at five schools, including two charter schools. (Todd McInturf/Detroit News via AP)

— -- Students of troubled Detroit schools filed suit on Tuesday against the state of Michigan in what could be a historic legal case that seeks to establish a constitutional right to literacy.

The students, backed by a California law firm, filed the suit on Tuesday, reports WXYZ, a local ABC affiliate.

Los Angeles-based public interest firm Public Counsel says the suit is the first of its kind, seeking to establish a legal right to literacy based on the 14th amendment of the constitution.

The 133-page complaint claims students who attend poorly-performing schools have been denied their basic rights, and references the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, which called education "the very foundation of good citizenship."

Jamarria Hall, a senior at Osborn High School in Detroit, says he was thinking about how he could make a difference in his school when an attorney out of California asked if he would like to be part of this lawsuit.

He says he sees a lot of inequality in the way the state doles out resources for students in wealthier school districts versus inner city districts.

Hall says he can’t even seem to get a teacher in every class, noting that he is sick of being sent to the gym to play basketball during Spanish class because he has no Spanish teacher.

“I just hope it leads to change,” he told WXYZ. “I feel like I am getting cheated”

He says there have been times when he didn’t have an English teacher either. Hall says he learned to read because of support at home, but he says other students aren’t as lucky.

“We don’t even have books for them to practice reading,” he told WXYZ.

The lawsuit says the state has created an unequal education system where inner city schools are less likely to provide opportunities for all kids. It names the state, state education officials and Governor Rick Snyder as defendants, WXYZ reports.

“Would Governor Rick Snyder send his kids to Detroit Schools?” asked Mark Rosenbaum, Director of Public Counsel’s Opportunity Under Law Project.

The suit says that by under-funding education, the state is denying kids their constitutional rights.

“For more than a decade, the educators of this city have been raising the red flag about Detroit Public Schools: Our schools are falling apart, our classrooms lack the basic resources needed to educate children, and we have been forced to do more with less to give our students a shot at the American dream,” said Detroit Federation of Teachers Interim President Ivy Bailey.

WXYZ reached out to the Michigan Department of Education and Governor Rick Snyder’s office for comment.

"We are concerned with the literacy levels of all children in Michigan," said State Superintendent Brian Whiston. "However, we do not comment on pending litigation as this goes through the process.”

A spokesperson for the governor also told WXYZ there would be no comment provided on pending litigation.

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