Michigan State Tells Students Literacy Is Not A Constitutional Right

The impoverished Detroit Public Schools are “functionally incapable of delivering access to literacy,” claims the lawsuit by students.


Attorneys for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder say there is no fundamental right to literacy for Detroit schoolchildren in response to a lawsuit filed against the state over the deteriorating quality of education.

Seven children filed the complaint in September claiming decades of negligence and low investments have denied students access to literacy. The plaintiffs come from four of the lowest performing schools at Detroit Public School Community District: Hamilton Academy, Medicine and Community Health Academy at Cody, Osborn Collegiate Academy of Mathematics, Science and Technology and Osborn Evergreen Academy of Design and Alternative Energy. One plaintiff is a former student of Experiencia Preparatory Academy, a charter school that closed down in June.

The complainants allege the schools are in a shocking state of disrepair, have classrooms without teachers, not enough desks, shortage of books, unsafe facilities, vermin and extreme temperature.

“Decades of State disinvestment in and deliberate indifference to Detroit schools have denied Plaintiff schoolchildren access to the most basic building block of education: literacy,” the suit claims and adds they are “functionally incapable of delivering access to literacy.”



Students Literacy

Students Literacy

It looks to establish that literacy is a U.S. Constitutional right and seeks equal access to literacy, screening, intervention, an accountability system and other measures.

However, lawyers are asking the federal judge to reject what they are calling an “attempt to destroy the American tradition of democratic control of schools.”

Timothy J. Haynes, an assistant attorney general, states the claims by the students go beyond mere access of education.

“(They) ask this court to serve as a ‘super’ Legislature tasked with determining and dictating educational policy in every school district and school building throughout the United States where an illiterate child may be found,” he responded.

“Such a path would effectively supersede democratic control by voters and the judgment of parents, allowing state and federal courts to peer over the shoulders of teachers and administrators and substitute court judgment for the professional judgment of educators.”

He also denied that the state has operated or controlled public schools in Detroit since 1999, which is alleged in the lawsuit.

Kathryn Eidmann, staff attorney for Public Counsel, representing the schoolchildren, said although the response was disappointing it was not wholly unexpected. She also said the 62-page motion against the students ignored the grim conditions of the schools that the students have to go to everyday.

“There is no mention about the fact that hardly any of the students have access to teachers or books. These are schools where no state officials or state lawyer would send their child,” she said.

This isn’t the first time complaints of such cases have come to light.

In January, teachers and faculty of Detroit schools organized a massive sick-out in protest of the water damage, mold and rats in the school. The demonstration resulted in a statewide school shut down but they were soon reopened.

A 2011 study showed 47 percent of Detroit’s residents were functionally illiterate and could not fill out basic forms or even properly understand the instructions on a prescription bottle.

Detroit Public Schools have been struggling with low enrollment, bad test scores and corruption that have left students without basic educational supplies.

A $617 million aid package this summer relieved the district of almost half a billion dollar debt and provided $150 million for starting a new, debt-free Detroit Public Schools Community District.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Murphy III is expected to hear motions from DPS and the state in February to decide whether the case should be moved forward.

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