Detroit students who lack literacy skills sue state of Michigan

Sept. 14, 2016
Suit contends that the state's lack of support for Detroit schools violates students' constitutional rights.

A federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Detroit schoolchildren contends that the state of Michigan is violating students' constitutional rights by failing to teach them to read.

The Detroit Free Press reports that the class-action suit argues that through "disinvestment and deliberate indifference," the state has denied Detroit students access to literacy.

"The State of Michigan’s systemic, persistent, and deliberate failure to deliver instruction and tools essential for access to literacy in plaintiffs’ schools, which serve almost exclusively low-income children of color, deprives students of even a fighting chance."

The students who are plaintiffs in the suit are represented by the Public Counsel law firm, based in California.

The lawsuit documents the low reading and math proficiency rates of Detroit students, as well as the existence of classes without teachers and outdated or insufficient classroom materials. It also notes deteriorating and dangerous facility conditions at some schools.

Kathryn Eidmann, a staff attorney for Public Counsel, says the firm decided to focus on Detroit schools because they have the lowest proficiency rates of any large urban school district in the nation.

Since 2009, Detroit Public Schools, which earlier this summer was supplanted by the newly formed Detroit Public Schools Community District, has been controlled by a series of emergency managers. State intervention first began years earlier, in 1999.

To remedy the literacy problem, the plaintiffs want the Detroit school system to establish evidence-based literacy programs, universal screening for literacy problems and an accountability system in which the state "monitors conditions that deny access to literacy" and intervenes.

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

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