Lawsuit Claims Detroit Schools Offered Inadequate Education

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and educational officials working in the state are facing a lawsuit against them regarding the quality of the education system in Detroit, which has been deemed to have systemically failed to provide students with an adequate education and deprived them of necessary learning resources.

Lawyers from the California-based public interest law firm Public Counsel are representing the school children in Detroit and are using the case to illustrate that literacy should be a codified right under the 14th Amendment of the U.S Constitution in the largest federal case of its kind.

The lawsuit is comprised of the experiences of seven students who attend some of the lowest-performing schools in the city run by the Detroit Public Schools Community District including the Osborn Collegiate Academy of Mathematics, Science and Technology, the Osborn Evergreen Academy of Design and Alternative Energy and the Cody Medicine and Community Health Academy. The charter schools Hamilton Academy and Experiencia Preparatory Academy are also under investigation, with the latter of the two having closed in June of this year, writes Ann Zaniewski from Detroit Free Press.

Equal access to literacy, a state-wide accountability system and other measures are being sought by the class-action law suit.

Public Counsel wrote in a statement that:

“… the state simply provides buildings…in which students pass days and then years with no opportunity to learn to read, write or comprehend.”

Declining enrollment, low test scores and a history of dishonest education spending in the state have left students without the resources they need to succeed, reports Jennifer Chamber with The Detroit News.

Chambers also reports that the Detroit Public Schools Community District received an aid package worth $617 million over the summer, providing some relief for the almost half-billion dollar debt. Around $150 million in start-up funding was also provided for a new, debt-free school district.

Christy Strawser from CBS Detroit reports that 97 percent of the students in the schools undergoing investigation in the suit are black, and largely poor.

Kathryn Eidmann, an attorney with Public Counsel, paints a shocking picture of the learning environment at some of the schools within the district, stating that the lawsuit documents outline the:

“… pervasive, shock-the-conscience conditions that deny children the opportunity to attain literacy, including lack of books, classrooms without teachers, insufficient desks, buildings plagued by vermin, unsafe facilities and extreme temperatures. One seventh- and eighth-grade classroom was taught for a month by an eighth-grade student.”

Renee Schenkman, a former teacher at the Experiencia Preparatory Academy, struggled to help her students learn in the deteriorating environment and expressed helplessness.

“For me, teaching felt less like a career and more like a veritable ‘Hunger Games’. While I wish this was only a dark metaphor, it really did feel like my students and I were forced to endure conditions that were not only detrimental to their education but dangerous to their well-being.”

The lawsuit is similar to the 2012 case filed by student at Highland Park by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which was dismissed in favor of the state by the Michigan Court of Appeals, reports Sarah Cwiek at Michigan Radio.