The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Education for depriving its students of a “right to read” by failing to ensure that school children can all read at their grade level, CNN reports. The lawsuit, which the ACLU’s Michigan branch is calling “first in the nation,” aims to enshrine in law the idea that literacy is a right that must be respected and enforced.
“What’s unique about this is that we’re focusing in on literacy and the right to read” Michigan ACLU Executive Director Kary L. Moss said of the complaint filed last week in state court. “Literacy is the gateway to all other knowledge.”
The issue in question is the literacy provision of a state law that requires students who do not score at grade level for reading in 4th and 7th grades to be provided with sufficient additional support to enable them to catch up to their classmates in a year or less.
Filed as a class action on behalf of eight students who, the ACLU said, represent nearly 1,000 students in the district, the lawsuit cites individual cases of students struggling with basic literacy.
One of the student plaintiffs reportedly failed the state’s standardized tests in his fourth, fifth and sixth grade years without receiving “any specialized reading intervention in 4th or 5th grade,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit also gives an example another plaintiff who has attended schools in the district since first grade and in eighth grade was on a third-grade level for reading proficiency.
Highland Park school district, one of the worst in the state, was named as a defendant in the suit. According to the Michigan Department of Education, Highland Park’s high schools consistently rank in the bottom 1% of the state’s school districts.
“No case ever filed anywhere in the U.S. has addressed a school system in such dire straits.” said attorney Mark Rosenbaum, a member of the Michigan ACLU legal team.
“The Highland Park School District is among the lowest achieving school districts in the nation, let alone Michigan,” Rosenbaum added in an ACLU news release.
Highland Park has been under the control of an emergency manager since a month after the new governor Rick Snyder was sworn in. Snyder, who wants to make academic improvement an priority, has already called for allocating more money for education in the state budget next year.