Students to appeal dismissal of literacy suit

Nicquel Terry Ellis
The Detroit News

Detroit students and families who lost their lawsuit seeking a constitutional right to literacy and a basic education are appealing a federal judge's ruling, the group said Monday. 

U.S. District Judge Stephen J. Murphy III's decision to dismiss the case means the group will take it to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In the suit, which was filed in 2016 through a California public interest law firm, students claim conditions of their schools are so poor and inadequate that they had not received the best education. They also claim they were denied access to literacy on account of their races. The conditions violated their rights under the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment the lawsuit states. 

Javier Reed helps Destiny Fears, 16, a 10th-grader at Mumford Academy, improve her reading skills.

But attorneys for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and state education officials said no fundamental right to literacy exists for Detroit schoolchildren. The lawyers asked Murphy to dismiss the case and reject what they called an “attempt to destroy the American tradition of democratic control of schools.”

The state argued the U.S. Supreme Court and Michigan courts do recognize the importance of literacy, but reject claims that it is a constitutional right.

Murphy ruled Friday that the due process clause doesn't require Michigan to provide access to minimally adequate education and that literacy is not a fundamental right. He also said the plaintiffs didn't prove the state was directly responsible for conditions in the schools as listed in the lawsuit. 

Mark Rosenbaum, the lead attorney representing the students in the case, said in a Monday statement that Murphy's decision was "as deeply disappointing as having to file a lawsuit in the first place."

"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," Rosenbaum said.

"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."