“None of those adults charged with the care of these children . . . have done their jobs,” said Kary L. Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan. “The Highland Park School District is among the lowest-performing districts in the nation, graduating class after class of children who are not literate. Our lawsuit . . . says that if education is to mean anything, it means that children have a right to learn to read.”
The complaint, to be filed in state court in Wayne County, is based on a 1993 state law that says if public school students are not proficient in reading, as determined by tests given in grades 4 and 7, they must be provided “special assistance” to bring them to grade level within a year.
But at Highland Park, a three-school district bordering Detroit, most of the struggling students are years behind grade level and never received the kind of assistance required by law, the ACLU said.
Sara Wurfel, press secretary for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R), said it was “impossible and imprudent to comment on a lawsuit that we haven’t been served or read yet.”
But she said the administration is working to address “a long overdue fiscal and academic crisis that was crippling the district, shortchanging its students and threatening the schools’ very existence. Everything we have done and are doing is to ensure that the kids of Highland Park schools get the education they need and deserve.”
Efforts to reach the Highland Park School District were unsuccessful. The published telephone number at the district headquarters was busy all Wednesday afternoon.
One student in the Highland Park district, a 14-year-old boy named Quentin, just finished seventh grade. Quentin, whose mother asked that his last name be withheld, reads at a first-grade level, according to an expert hired by the ACLU.
When asked to compose a letter to Snyder to describe his school, Quentin misspelled his own name, writing, “My name is Quemtin . . . and you can make the school gooder by geting people that will do the jod that is pay for get a football tame for the kinds mybe a baksball tamoe get a other jamtacher for the school get a lot of tacher.”
[Click here for samples of writing from Highland Park students who are plaintiffs in the suit, including Quentin.]
During the school year that just finished, Quentin was enrolled in both a regular language arts class and Read 180, an online program designed to help struggling readers. It was up to Quentin to decide whether to attend his regular class or participate in Read 180 each day, according to the complaint. This was the first year Highland Park used the Read 180 program, according to the ACLU.