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July 18, 2012

So says a lawsuit, filed July 12, 2012, on behalf of children in the Highland Park School District there. Shocking examples of shortfalls in students' reading and writing skills, as presented in the ACLU of Michigan's court papers in S.S. v. State of Michigan, demonstrate extremely insufficient academic programs.

Some of the schoolchildren are quoted in court papers: "I go to Barber foucs school. I wish it was a batter [illegible] in the clean bathroom. batter teachers and batter Lunch," writes a 7th grade student. A high proportion of students in this school district are years behind in literacy, the lawsuit claims, based on recent skills assessments.

Ironically, Michigan has a state law designed specifically to address reading proficiency and prevent major deficits from developing. That 1993 law requires all students to be tested in reading. Those identified as not proficient must receive "special assistance reasonably expected to enable [them] to bring [their] reading skills to grade level within 12 months." (See Core academic curriculum at Section 380.1278(8).)

If the state has failed to follow and enforce its own law, is it any surprise that the state is now being hauled into court as a defendant in this case? The question is, will the courts hold the state accountable?

The court papers also point out that the state has taken over this school district and announced plans to turn the schools over to a charter operator. The application process does not ask charter operators for any proof that potential charter schools will be able to address these severe literacy issues.

The plaintiffs ask the court to order remedial relief to students for the denial of the assistance required by the state statute, and compel the defendants to ensure that teachers with appropriate training and credentials are assigned to deliver the reading remediation services.

The S.S. plaintiffs also assert claims under the Michigan Constitution's education clause and its equal protection clause, and they seek "certification of a class" within this high-poverty school district, where 88% of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

Over the last 40 years, many states have seen similar lawsuits brought under their state constitution's education or equal protection clauses, based on egregious conditions and the absence of basic educational resources, such as decent buildings, literacy programs, and certified teachers. In some of these states, strong court rulings and proactive legislatures or governors have led to major improvements.

Michigan bears watching to see if the S.S. litigation leads to significant progress for the state's schoolchildren.

Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
email: mhunter@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x19

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