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