ACLU Alleges Michigan School District Violated Students’ ‘Right to Learn to Read’

Lyndsey Layton, Washington Post, July 12, 2012

In the first case of its kind, the American Civil Liberties Union is charging that the state of Michigan and a Detroit area school district have failed to adequately educate children, violating their “right to learn to read” under an obscure state law.

The ACLU class-action lawsuit, to be filed Thursday, says hundreds of students in the Highland Park School District are functionally illiterate.

“None of those adults charged with the care of these children . . . have done their jobs,” said Kary L. Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan. “The Highland Park School District is among the lowest-performing districts in the nation, graduating class after class of children who are not literate. Our lawsuit . . . says that if education is to mean anything, it means that children have a right to learn to read.”

The complaint, to be filed in state court in Wayne County, is based on a 1993 state law that says if public school students are not proficient in reading, as determined by tests given in grades 4 and 7, they must be provided “special assistance” to bring them to grade level within a year.

But at Highland Park, a three-school district bordering Detroit, most of the struggling students are years behind grade level and never received the kind of assistance required by law, the ACLU said.

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The district’s record-keeping is shoddy and student files are incomplete, making it nearly impossible to identify which students need remedial help, the complaint alleges.

The most recent state test scores for Highland Park schools show that 65 percent of fourth-graders and 75 percent of seventh-graders were not proficient in reading.

In addition to its academic problems, the Highland Park district is facing severe financial turmoil. Once home to Chrysler and a stable, working-class community, Highland Park’s fortunes have been spiraling downward. The district faces an estimated $11.3 million deficit and a 58 percent enrollment drop since 2006.

“There’s been a demise of manufacturing and exit of the taxpayer base,” Moss said. “What’s left is a high-poverty population of kids in a district that’s struggling with any range of problems.”

Highland Park is one of three Michigan school districts that have been taken over by an emergency manager appointed by the governor. {snip}

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[Editor’s Note: According to this website, the under-18 population of the Highland Park School District is at least 96 percent black. Revealing statistics about the district’s academic performance are available here.]

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