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Detroit joins "right to read" lawsuit against city schools, state

Jan 21, 2017

The city of Detroit is signing onto a federal lawsuit that claims many Detroit students are being denied a fundamental “right to read.”

Activists and pro bono legal groups filed the suit last September, with support from groups like the American Federation of Teachers.

But now the city of Detroit is also jumping on board. City lawyers filed an amicus brief this week.

It echoes claims that “access to literacy is a fundamental right,” and that plaintiffs have “adequately” made the case they’ve been denied that.

In this case, the plaintiffs are students in five Detroit schools. They claim conditions there are so poor in so many ways, they’re effectively denied a basic education.

“The City of Detroit (though it does not control Detroit’s schools) is all too familiar with illiteracy’s far-reaching effects,” city lawyers write in the brief. “Widespread illiteracy has hampered the City’s efforts to connect Detroiters with good-paying jobs; to fill vacancies on its police force; and to grow its tax base. Illiteracy, moreover, has greatly exacerbated the effects of intergenerational poverty in Detroit.'

The brief goes on to cite some recent improvement in conditions throughout the city, but notes that “Ultimately, Detroit’s renaissance will lag if its children are not afforded a fair opportunity to learn how to read and write.”

The city does not have any formal control over Detroit’s public school district, or its many charter schools. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan pushed hard last year for a Detroit Education Commission that he would appoint to control some aspects of all city schools, but that didn’t make it into the $617 million restructuring package state lawmakers passed last summer.

But that hasn’t substantially improved conditions in the schools.

“Plaintiffs’ Complaint thoroughly—and persuasively—alleges the precise mechanisms through which they have been denied a meaningful opportunity to obtain literacy, (alleging, among other things, lack of textbooks and basic materials; overcrowded classrooms; failure to address students’ specific learning needs; lack of English Language Learner instruction; and unqualified staff),” the city wrote in its brief.

The lawsuit names a number of state officials, including Gov. Snyder, as defendants. The state wants the lawsuit dismissed. A federal judge is expected to rule on that early this year.