Detroit civil rights lawsuit attempts to assert a constitutional right to literacy
First legal challenge of its kind in the US says Michigan has disinvested in education in Detroit to the point that children lack fundamental tools to learn
Andrea Jackson, counselor and parent at Osborn MST, with student Jamarria Hall, Mark Rosenbaum, director of Public Counsel, and Michael Kelley, partner at Sidley Austin LLP Photograph: Public Counsel
amarria Hall can’t stomach walking into his high school on Detroit’s east side some days. The classrooms are hot, water fountains don’t work and only 2.2% of students last year achieved college-ready scores in reading and English.
“It doesn’t even feel like school,” said Hall, a senior at Osborn Evergreen Academy of Design and Alternative Energy. “It makes my stomach hurt just walking into the facility, knowing we’re basically getting cheated – really, getting robbed – of education.”
A federal civil rights lawsuit filed on Tuesday aims to challenge Hall’s educational system by asserting a constitutional right to literacy, in what attorneys say is the first legal challenge of its kind in the US. The 133-page complaint says the state ofMichigan has disinvested in education in Detroit so much that children lack fundamental access to literacy.
Hall, 16, said he has friends who can’t read “but it’s not because they aren’t smart, it’s because the state has failed them”.
Proficiency rates in core subject areas are near-zero at the schools where the seven students named in the complaint attend, the complaint says.
“Absent literacy, a child has no way to obtain knowledge, communicate with the world, or participate in the institutions and activities of citizenship,” said Mark Rosenbaum, director of the opportunity under law project of Public Counsel, which is filing the lawsuit.
Harvard constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe, who is not involved in the litigation, said he expects the lawsuit will make history, “much as Brown v Board of Education did”.
“The legal theory underlying the suit is both creative and rock-solid,” he said, “and Mark Rosenbaum’s legal team is nothing short of extraordinary.”
“If you think of Brown v Board as one shoe that dropped, this is the other shoe,” he said, “because though it eliminated, technically, inferior schools for blacks, and eliminated de jure segregation, it didn’t achieve one of its basic goals. And that is a decent educational opportunity for all kids, regardless of race, regardless of class, regardless of geography. That’s become a more elusive goal.”
The plaintiffs include students from five of the lowest-performing schools in the city’s system, which recently was overhauled before the start of the new year, after state lawmakers passed a $617m plan to restructure the district and shed its long-term debt. Teachers this year have waged large-scale protests over the prospect of working without pay and in subpar working conditions, though officials have recently touted improvements in building repairs.
The governor’s office said it doesn’t comment on pending lawsuits. A spokesperson for Detroit’s school system said the district’s legal team hasn’t had time to review the case.
The lawsuit describes a public school system in Detroit that has experienced a Detroit civil rights lawsuit attempts to assert a constitutional right to literacy | US news | The Guardian: