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ACLU's 'Right to Read' Lawsuit Heads to Michigan Supreme Court

The ACLU of Michigan is taking its landmark lawsuit against the Highland Park school district to the Michigan Supreme Court, weeks after an appeals court dismissed the suit.

The lawsuit claims the state and the Detroit-area school district failed to teach students to read at grade level, as mandated by state law and its constitution.

Filed in July 2012 on behalf of eight Highland Park students, the original "right-to-read" suit maintained that the state failed to take adequate steps to ensure that district students were reading at grade level. The suit drew national attention to the struggling school district, perennially one of the worst performing in the state.

A state-appointed emergency manager selected charter school company the Leona Group to run the Highland Park schools that same month, but the district has yet to rebound.

"We refuse to simply stand by as our government shirks its responsibility to provide quality education to our most vulnerable children," said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan in a statement. "Literacy is the most fundamental tool for acquiring knowledge and skill. Without the ability to read proficiently, most of our children are guaranteed to be relegated to a life of poverty, misery and struggle."

The Michigan Court of Appeals dismissed the suit in November, ruling that while the constitution encourages education it doesn't mandate it. The court also found that the role of the state in education isn't as encompassing as the ACLU argued.

The ACLU cited data showing large percentages of Highland Park students failing state exams. Besides addressing the district's academic issues, the group has also said it wants learning conditions improved, more textbooks in classrooms, cleaned up buildings and functioning bathrooms and heating systems.

The Michigan Department of Education declined comment on the lawsuit.

"When we filed this case two years ago, we were representing eight children in a district where 90 percent of 11th-grade students were not reading proficient," said Moss, the ACLU executive director. "More than two years later, families have fled. The district ... is still in deficit. And test scores remain abysmally low."

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