Detroit Public School students sue state, say constitutional right to literacy is being violated

Posted at 6:28 PM, Sep 13, 2016

Is the opportunity to learn to read a constitutional right in the United States of America?  A federal lawsuit filed today by students in Detroit says it is.

The first of its kind suit accuses the state of violating the constitutional rights of students by underfunding education.

The class action suit was filed by five kids who went to some of the lowest performing public and charter schools in Detroit.

One of them is a senior at Osborn High School named Jamarria Hall. He says he was thinking about how he could make a difference in his schools when an attorney out of California with the Opportunity Under Law Project asked if he would like to be part of this lawsuit. 

“I just hope it leads to change,” said Hall.

He says he sees great inequity in the resources for students in wealthier school districts and inner city districts. 

He says he can’t even seem to get a teacher in every class. He is sick of being sent to the gym to play basketball during Spanish class because he has no Spanish teacher.

“I feel like I am getting cheated,” said Hall.

He says there have been times when he didn’t have an English teacher.  He says he can read because of support at home, but other students aren’t as lucky. 

“We don’t even have books for them to practice reading,” said Hall.

The lawsuit says the state has created an education system of inequity where inner city schools are less likely to provide opportunities for all kids.  It names the state, state education officials and Governor Rick Snyder as defendants.

“Would Governor Rick Snyder send his kids to Detroit Schools?” asked Mark Rosenbaum, Director of Public Counsel’s Opportunity Under Law Project.

The suit says that by under-funding education - the state is denying kids their constitutional right to literacy. It makes the argument that the opportunity to learn to read is guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment.

“For more than a decade, the educators of this city have been raising the red flag about Detroit Public Schools: Our schools are falling apart, our classrooms lack the basic resources needed to educate children, and we have been forced to do more with less to give our students a shot at the American dream,” said Detroit Federation of Teachers Interim President Ivy Bailey.

7 Action News reached out to the Michigan Department of Education and Governor Rick Snyder’s office for comment.

"We are concerned with the literacy levels of all children in Michigan," said State Superintendent Brian Whiston. "However, we do not comment on pending litigation as this goes through the process.”

A spokesperson for the governor also said there would be no comment provided on pending litigation.

You can read the lawsuit below.

Complaint against DPS by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit on Scribd