Detroit students to appeal ‘tragically wrong’ ruling in literacy lawsuit

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DETROIT, MI – The group of Detroit students suing the state of Michigan plans to appeal a U.S. District Court’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit.

On Friday, June 29, Judge Stephen Murphy, of the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit, dismissed a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of seven Detroit public schools students, who allege the state has denied them access to literacy due to the poor conditions of Detroit Public Schools.

Murphy said the alleged conditions of Detroit schools are “nothing short of devastating,” and he acknowledged the “incalculable importance” of literacy in his opinion on the lawsuit.

However, literacy is not a fundamental right, he said, so there was no grounds for the lawsuit that said state officials with authority over Detroit schools had violated students’ rights.

The students and their families will appeal the ruling to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, according to a statement issued by the families’ attorneys on Monday, July 2.

Literacy is not a fundamental right, federal judge in Detroit Schools case says

Literacy is not a fundamental right, federal judge in Detroit Schools case says

The lawsuit alleged the conditions of Detroit Public Schools are so poor that children are not receiving a minimally adequate education and are being denied access to literacy.

“The court got it tragically wrong when it characterized access to literacy as a privilege, instead of a right held by all children so that they may better their circumstances and meaningfully participate in our political system,” Attorney Mark Rosenbaum, who represents the student plaintiffs through pro bono law firm Public Counsel, said in a press release.

“Children from affluent communities in Michigan do not attend schools in their communities lacking teachers, books and safe and sanitary conditions, and children of color and from less advantaged communities are entitled to no less,” Rosenbaum said. “This is both a moral and a constitutional imperative.”

Gov. Rick Snyder, members of the state board of education, the state superintendent of public instruction and other state officials were named as defendants in the lawsuit. Detroit Public Schools has been under some form of state intervention since 1999.

Attorney Carter G. Phillips, of Sidley Austin LLP, who also is representing the students in the lawsuit, said he is glad the U.S. District Court found state officials could be held responsible for the state of Detroit Schools and that they are not immune from being sued in their official capacities.

However, he was not pleased with the decision to dismiss the lawsuit.

“We are disappointed that the court failed to recognize that no Supreme Court or other precedent compels the court to turn its back on the desperate plight of Detroit schoolchildren,” Phillips said in a press release.

Ari Adler, director of communications for Gov. Rick Snyder, said the governor’s office generally does not comment on litigation.

“I would point out that Gov. Snyder has always been committed to doing what he can to ensure students in Detroit get a proper education so that Detroit’s comeback can be complete,” Adler wrote in an email to MLive.

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