Saying that the district has failed to teach its students to read, the the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a class-action lawsuit in state court on behalf of eight students who represent the 970 children attending Highland Park schools, near Detroit.
The lawsuit is the first of its kind in the state, said Kary L. Moss, the executive director of the ACLU of Michigan. The organization’s contention is that Michigan law and its constitution guarantee students an education that will teach them how to read at grade level, and the district has deprived its students of that right.
Highland Park, which was taken over by the state early this year, has had two emergency managers in three months and has been in financial and managerial disarray. (Detroit, itself under emergency management, was picked earlier this year to handle the district’s personnel matters.) The latest recommendation, from Emergency Manager Joyce Parker, is that the districts two K-8 schools and lone high school be turned over to a charter management organization.
Moss told me in an interview chose Highland Park because even among struggling districts, it stands out: 66.5 percent of its 3rd through 8th graders failed to achieve proficiency on the reading MEAP in 2011-12. In math, 89.8 percent failed to achieve proficiency during that year. On the Michigan Merit Exam, a state test that measures college readiness among high school juniors, 97 percent of tested students were partially or not proficient in math, 90 percent were partially or not proficient in reading, and 100 percent of the tested students were partially or not proficient in social studies and science.
Moss said that when the ACLU sought records on the eight students it chose to represent the entire district, “files were in complete disarray. There was very little information in them,” she said. A freedom of information act request was met with no response. “You try to call the district, and the phone just rings and rings and rings.”
In the ACLU’s complaint, the organization notes that state law says “excluding special education pupils, pupils having a learning disability and pupils with extenuating circumstances as determined by school officials, a pupil who does not score satisfactorily on the 4th or 7th grade MEAP reading test shall be provided special assistance expected to enable the pupil to bring his or her reading skills to grade level within 12 months.” The students represented in the suit have not received any supplemental instruction, despite scoring not proficient on state tests, the complaint says.
The ACLU is asking for a plan to assess all students in the district and bring them up to grade level. The complaint also goes into detail on the poor conditions of the schools, including no heat in some classrooms, a “critical lack” of textbooks, and overcrowded classrooms.
The Michigan Department of Education said in a press statement that it had not been served with a lawsuit and would not comment on pending litigation. Highland Park officials also have not responded.
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.