The Right to Read

September 23, 2015

If the right to a public education means anything, it means that students should be taught to read. In a groundbreaking case that has garnered national attention, the ACLU of Michigan filed a class action in 2012 on behalf of students in the Highland Park Public Schools who are the victims of outrageously poor oversight, management and teaching controls on both the state and local levels.

This failure on the part of state and local actors has left a generation of children reading as many as five grade levels below the levels to which they should have progressed. Many students were rendered functionally illiterate while still being passed along from one grade to the next.

The ACLU has argued that both the State of Michigan and the Highland Park School District are violating state law and the Michigan Constitution by allowing students to fall far behind in basic literacy skills and reading proficiency. In 2013 the Wayne County Circuit Court denied all defendants’ motions to dismiss the case, stating that there is a “broad compelling state interest in the provision of an education to all children.”

In November 2014, however, the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed by a vote of 2-1. The majority held that the Michigan Constitution “merely ‘encourages’ education, but does not mandate it.” In dissent, Judge Douglas Shapiro rejected as “miserly” the majority’s view of the education constitutionally due Michigan’s children, writing that the state is legally required “to provide some baseline level of adequacy of education.”

In December 2014, the ACLU asked the Michigan Supreme Court to review the case. Unfortunately, in September 2015, the court decided not to hear our appeal.

(S.S. v. State of Michigan; ACLU Attorneys Kary Moss, Shana Schoem, Rick Haberman, Mark Fancher, Amy Senier and Michael J. Steinberg, and Law Student Intern Jackie Perlow; Cooperating Attorneys Mark Rosenbaum of U-M Law School, Steve Guggenheim, Doru Gavril and Joni Ostler of Wilson Sonsini, and Jennifer Salvatore, Edward Macey and Nakisha Chaney of Nacht Law.)

View the full 2014-2015 Legal Docket.