LOS ANGELES – A lawsuit filed on Sept. 13, by Los
Angeles-based Public Counsel, the nation's largest public interest law
firm, is representing seven Detroit school children over the
right to literacy.
Michigan lawyers are fighting the suit, claiming there is no
constitutional protection to literacy.
According to an Oct. 11 article by The Detroit News, the
suit alleges that Michigan has denied children access to the basics of
education, focusing specifically on literacy.
“U.S. Secretary of Education John King Jr. says Michigan has
not properly invested in Detroit’s schoolchildren but declined to tell The
Detroit News whether he thinks literacy is a federal right,” the Oct. 11
Despite King’s ability to address whether literacy is a
federal right, he did explain that the state has not made appropriate efforts
to invest in education.
“It is clear that the state over the years has not made any
of the kind of investment and commitment to the kids of Detroit that’s needed,”
King said in an Oct. 11 interview with The Detroit News. “And that is our
responsibility across levels of government — local, state and federal. And the
future of our economy and our democracy depend on that.”
Richard Primus, a constitutional law expert and professor at
University of Michigan Law School, explained that this suit brings attention to
how proper education is neglected in lower-income and poverty-stricken areas.
“If the allegations are true — rodent-infested classrooms,
no textbooks in classes, classrooms without teachers — Primus said it’s hard to
understand how the schools could be providing adequate education,” The Detroit
News article said.
State lawyers had a deadline of Nov. 17 to respond to
the suit, and their response was to request that U.S. District Judge Stephen J.
Murphy III dismiss the case, according to a Nov. 21 Detroit Free Press
"The United States Supreme Court and Michigan courts
recognize the importance of literacy," state lawyers said in their written
response. "But as important as literacy may be, the United States Supreme
Court has unambiguously rejected the claim that public education is a
fundamental right under the Constitution. Literacy is a component or particular
outcome of education, not a right granted to individuals by the
The Detroit Free Press article explained that even if the Constitution
makes no mention of literacy, the suit argues that literacy is a right because it
hinders access to other constitutionally protected rights.
“Citizens cannot access other constitutionally protected
activities such as casting an informed vote, or serving on juries or in the
military,” the article said. “The suit targeted the state because it has
appointed emergency managers to run the Detroit Public Schools in recent years.”
According to the Detroit Free Press, the suit is being
watched closely by education experts around the country to see if the courts
are ready to establish a right to literacy.
“The federal courts have historically been reluctant to wade
into school funding issues, focusing instead on safeguarding students from
civil rights violations such as segregation and discrimination,” the Nov.
21 article said.
Kathryn Eidmann, one of the lawyers representing the Detroit
children in the lawsuit, argues that the state is avoiding the real issues
listed in the complaint.
"The response completely fails to engage with the
136-page complaint’s specific and detailed allegations documenting the extreme
and indefensible conditions that deny children access to literacy in Detroit
schools: classrooms without books or teachers, sweltering and freezing
temperatures, vermin infestations, and buildings that are literally falling
apart," Eidmann said.
The state argues that the lawyers invested in the lawsuit
are ignoring additional factors that may contribute to illiteracy, such as
poverty, medical issues and lack of parental guidance, among other
environmental and intellectual limitations, according to the Detroit Free press
The lawyers hired by the state are preparing to fight the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme
Court, Detroit Free Press explained.
"Contrary to plaintiffs’ assertions, the 'state' never
ran any of the schools, although emergency managers have been appointed to
supplant local authority, where necessary," the lawyers said in their
Eidmann disagreed with the state’s alleged shirking of their
responsibilities to their citizens.
"The state’s claim that it bears no responsibility for
these shocking educational deprivations is disappointing, but unfortunately not
surprising, in light of the state’s long history of abdicating of its
responsibility to ensure that all Michigan children receive a decent education
and an equal shot at success," Eidmann said.