Michigan Lawsuit Hones in on Failure to Teach Reading

in NEWS FROM THE ACCESS NETWORK

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan this month filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of students in the Highland Park School District (HPSD), charging the state, the school district and its emergency manager, and a number of state agencies with violating children’s “right to read.” [1] S.S. v. State of Michigan. According to the complaint, two-thirds of all students in the district, considered one of the lowest performing school districts in the state, are reading several levels below grade level.

One plaintiff, who just completed the 7th grade but has reading skills appropriate for the 1st grade, recently wrote that he would like the Governor to “make the school gooder by geting people that will do the jod that is pay for get a football tame for the kinds mybe a baksball tamoe get a other jamtacher for the school get a lot of tacher.” Another plaintiff finished 8th grade and reads at a 2nd or 3rd grade level. According to the complaint, even though these students never passed the reading portion of the state’s standardized proficiency test – Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) – the district never intervened to provide individual reading instruction aimed to bring them up to grade level.

Plaintiffs in this case are taking a new tack to adequacy litigations. Their legal claims are based on the Michigan constitution’s requirement that “the legislature shall maintain and support a system of free public elementary and secondary schools as defined by law,” but they also rely heavily on a state statute that stipulates that every regular education student in 4th or 7th grade whose performance on the state reading test is below a proficiency level shall receive “special assistance reasonably expected to enable the pupil to bring his or her reading skills to grade level within 12 months.”

Plaintiffs assert that the defendants failed to provide the necessary remedial programs to the hundreds of students in the district who fell short of proficiency standards on the state test. They also assert that the defendants failed to provide adequate educational services to ensure all students develop basic literacy skills, noting the shortage of textbooks, low levels of teachers’ professional education, absence of counselors or vice principals, large class sizes, poor facilities, and inadequately resourced libraries where students are prohibited from checking out books. Plaintiffs identified literacy as “the root of all learning,” citing research showing its effect on students’ ability to learn mathematics and science, as well as their ability to think critically and solve problems.

Plaintiffs seek the immediate implementation of the “right to read” provision, including the creation of a process to assess compliance with literacy standards and initiatives to ensure remediation reading teachers have with the proper training.


[1] In January 2012, Governor Rick Snyder appointed an Emergency Manager to take over the district, prohibiting the school board and the superintendent from exercising their powers without first securing written approval from the Emergency Manager. In June, the Emergency Manager announced plans to turn HPSD over to a charter management organization.

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