Appellate court to rehear Detroit literacy case

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

The full panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals will rehear a Detroit literacy case that argues every student has a fundamental right to education. 

The appeals court announced Tuesday that it would vacate an earlier appellate panel ruling so that the full suite of appellate judges could consider the case. 

The decision comes less than a week after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer agreed to a settlement in the case that called for paying seven Detroit students $280,000, promising another $2.8 million in funding for the Detroit Public Schools Community District and agreeing to introduce legislation appropriating $94.5 million in future literacy funding. 

The settlement also called for the creation of two evaluation and policy committees: the Detroit Literacy Equity Task Force and the Detroit Education Policy Committee. 

Whitmer’s office said the governor is reviewing the new order for the Sixth Circuit and what impact, if any, it would have on the settlement.

The agreement between Whitmer and plaintiffs came as the Michigan Legislature and 10 other states asked the full appeals court in Cincinnati to set aside an earlier ruling by a three-judge panel that said students have a constitutional and fundamental right to a basic minimum education.

The appeals court panel had warned that the right to education “is narrow in scope” to include access to skills deemed “essential for the basic exercise of other fundamental rights and liberties, most importantly participation in our political system.”

Tuesday’s order vacated the panel opinion and granted a new hearing with the full Sixth Circuit. 

The initial lawsuit was filed in 2016 by seven Detroit students who alleged a lack of books, classrooms without teachers, poor building conditions and extreme temperatures deprived them access to literacy in their public schools.

The state of Michigan countered that decreased student enrollment triggered a loss of money to Detroit schools and that the state is not responsible for what happened in the district during two decades of on-again, off-again oversight.