The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan contends in a class-action lawsuit that the Highland Park school system is violating students' rights by failing to take the effective steps to ensure students are reading at grade level.
The suit says that because of systematic deficiencies in the Highland Park school system, nearly two-thirds of students lack the basic literacy skills to meet ground-level standards of proficiency in the Michigan Educational Assessment Program.
Highland Park “is, simply put, among the worst school districts in the state, in terms of providing its students with the most basic tool – literacy – without which children cannot participate meaningfully in their own education...” the suit contends. “As a result, students...have incurred devastating real-life consequences.”
The suit states that more than 99 percent of the 973 students in the Highland Park are African American, and about 82 percent of Highland Park students qualify for federal lunch subsidies.
In addition to the Highland Park district, the suit sames as defendants the state of Michigan, the state Board of Education, state Superintendent Michael Flanagan, and the state-appointed emergency manager of Highland Park Schools, Joyce Parker.
“This is a first-of-its-kind lawsuit asserting a child’s fundamental right to read,” says said Kary L. Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan. “The capacity to learn is deeply rooted in the ability to achieve literacy. A child who cannot read will be disenfranchised in our society and economy for a lifetime. Highland Park students want to be educated. However, their hopes and dreams for a future are being destroyed by an ineffective system that does not adequately prepare them for life beyond school.”
The ACLU argues that the deficiencies in the Highland Park district are especially troubling because of the state's direct involvement in the school system. The governor appointed Parker as district emergency manager in January because of Highland Park's dire financial situation. But since that appointment, the suit asserts, “little to no attention has been paid...to the deficient learning conditions.”
“Although the state has intervened on account of extreme financial mismanagement on the part of officials within (the district), it has not done the same with regard to the severe instructional failures in the schools,” the suit contends.
The ACLU is asking the court to require the state and school system to establish initiatives to improve literacy among Highland Park students, including “ensuring that teachers with appropriate training and credentials are assigned to deliver the reading remediation services to eligible students.”
View the lawsuit filing (PDF file)