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Sixth Circuit Rules That Detroit Students Have Been "Deprived of Access to Literacy"

6th circuit ruling

Historic opinion affirms a fundamental right to a basic minimum education


In response to an appeal filed in 2018 on behalf of Detroit public school students, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a groundbreaking ruling that all children have a constitutional right to a “basic minimum education” ensuring that they have access to literacy. The Court also affirmed that the State of Michigan had oversight and authority over Detroit schools and is therefore the proper party to provide the necessary relief.

Read the Sixth Circuit's Ruling HERE

In the opinion, the Sixth Court of Appeals cited decisions by the Supreme Court underscoring “the critical importance of education”:

“Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education.”

The Court added: that “a basic minimum education has a longstanding presence in our history and tradition, and is essential to our concept of ordered liberty.”

The original class action lawsuit, Gary B. v. Snyder, was first-of-its-kind in the nation, filed in 2016 to hold Michigan state officials accountable for denying children their constitutional right to literacy. 

The lawsuit stated: “Decades of State disinvestment in and deliberate indifference to the Detroit schools have denied Plaintiff schoolchildren access to the most basic building block of education: literacy. Literacy is fundamental to participation in public and private life and is the core component of the American tradition of education. But by its actions and inactions, the State of Michigan’s systemic, persistent, and deliberate failure to deliver instruction and tools essential for access to literacy in Plaintiffs’ schools, which serve almost exclusively low-income children of color, deprives students of even a fighting chance.”

As part of the Detroit public school system the plaintiffs, who came from a spectrum of public schools including charter schools, faced numerous challenges including a shortage of qualified teachers, lack of textbooks and classroom conditions that were unsafe and not conducive to learning. The lawsuit demanded that the state remedy this by ensuring students receive evidence-based literacy instruction at the elementary and secondary level, a stable, supported, and appropriately trained teaching staff, basic instructional materials and safe school conditions that do not interfere with students’ learning.

The students are represented by Public Counsel, the largest pro bono law firm in the nation, the international business law firm Sidley Austin LLP, which is handling the case pro bono, Michigan law firm Miller Cohen PLC, University of Michigan Law School Professor Evan Caminker, and University of California, Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky.

Read the full press release here.

More information about the lawsuit can be found herehttps://www.detroit-accesstoliteracy.org/