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Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder Sued Over Literacy Access in Detroit

A federal civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of seven Detroit schoolchildren alleges that state officials have failed to provide the students access to literacy.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, names Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, members of the Michigan Board of Education, the state schools superintendent, the director of the state department of technology, management and budget, and the state school reform/redesign officer as defendants.

The lawsuit was filed by lawyers with Public Counsel, a pro-bono firm. The plaintiffs want the court to determine whether the state violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by failing to provide the Detroit students with the same access to literacy as other students in the state's public schools and whether the current school system violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.  

A spokesman for Gov. Snyder said that the office does not comment on pending litigation. 

The lawsuit argues that the education the Detroit students are receiving is both "separate and unequal." 

The city's schools, the lawyers wrote in their brief, are in such state of disrepair and crisis that they are "irreparably damaging children's futures and depriving them of their constitutionally-guaranteed fundamental right of access to literacy."

The students named as plaintiffs attend four of the worst-performing schools in the city, according to the Detroit News. One student attended the now-shuttered charter school, Experiencia Preparatory Academy.  More than 97 percent of students in those schools are students of color and the majority of them are poor, according to the lawsuit.

According to the document:

"On a percentile scale of zero to 100, Michigan's statewide accountability system rates Plaintiffs' schools that are currently open one, two, four, and six. The non-profit organization Excellent Schools Detroit has likewise assigned grades of Fs and Ds to Plaintiffs' schools."

The lawsuit cites a host of deficiencies at the schools. Among them: either out-of-date textbooks or none at all; absence of basic resources such as pens, pencils, paper and a reliance on donations and teachers to provide them; overcrowded classrooms; unsanitary conditions; vermin-infested classrooms; insufficient and unqualified staff; and lack of instruction for English-learners.

It should not be shocking that students have trouble reading given the conditions in their schools, according to the lawsuit.

"The alarming outcomes in Plaintiffs' schools are a predictable consequence of the State's consignment of Plaintiffs to chaotic, under-resourced, and unsafe schools that lack the necessary learning and teaching conditions for effective delivery of literacy instruction," according to the filing.

The lawsuit alleges that the state was aware of the problems, but did not take the necessary steps to address them.

The lawsuit is seeking class action status on behalf of current and future students the plaintiffs' schools, attorneys' fees, and corrective measures. In the case of Experiencia Preparatory Academy, which is now closed, it sought to represent past students.

Among the corrective measures sought: remedial classes to bring students up to grade level; a screening system for literacy problems, along with "timely and appropriate" interventions; and the implementation of evidence-based literacy instruction and intervention programs.

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