Is literacy a constitutional right? A number of students in Detroit believe it is and are taking the issue to the U.S. Eastern District Court.
According to a recent class-action suit, plaintiffs claim that through its policy and practice, Michigan is deliberately depriving disadvantaged black students of a fighting chance to succeed by failing to provide adequate instructional materials and resources, safe school conditions, and appropriately trained teaching staff. The complaint outlines Detroit Public Schools−specific issues, including
- shortages of pencils, paper, textbooks,
- shortages of furniture,
- unsafe physical conditions of the schools,
- rodent and cockroach infestations, and
- unsupported, and at times noncertified, teaching staff.
In the complaint, plaintiffs argue that defendants, Governor Snyder and a number of individuals on the State Board of Education, have excluded Detroit students of color intentionally from the Michigan education scheme. According to the complaint, defendants are denying DPS students the constitutional right to literacy established through the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiffs also argue that the state's acts and omissions amount to a discriminatory violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on the basis of race and color.
Assistant Attorney General Timothy Haynes filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit to reject the claim that the students have a legal right to literacy under the Fourteenth Amendment. The motion is set to be heard in February.
Plaintiffs are seeking relief that includes remedial classes to bring students up to speed, state monitoring of the schools, and screening for literacy problems. The U.S. Eastern District is yet to hear testimony and make a ruling on whether the U.S. Constitution ensures a right to literacy.