Black Leaders Pressure Gov. Gretchen Whitmer To Settle the Detroit ‘Right to Literacy’ Case
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Black Leaders Pressure Gov. Gretchen Whitmer To Settle the Detroit ‘Right to Literacy’ Case

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In 2016, seven students in Detroit filed a class-action suit against the state of Michigan asserting that education is a basic right and that they had been denied it. The Gary B. v. Snyder case proceeded to federal court and sought to invoke the Constitution. In a landmark decision, a federal appeals court has ruled that children have a constitutional right to literacy, dealing a remarkable victory to the students.

The 2016 complaint alleges that Michigan’s then-Gov. Rick Snyder and the state’s board of education denied Detroit students their fundamental right to literacy. It cites textbooks that were tattered, outdated, and in such short supply that teachers could not send work home. The suit also described school buildings that were in shocking disrepair: broken toilets and water fountains, leaking ceilings, and shattered windows. The complaint went on to describe a lack of air-conditioning that’s caused some students to faint and in winter, students regularly wore hats, coats, and scarves to class surrounded by horrid conditions with rats becoming commonplace in the building.

“You’re sitting down in the classroom, and you see rodents in a corner. Or you can hear things crawling in the books,” says Jamarria Hall, a plaintiff in the class-action suit, who graduated in 2017, according to NPR. “But the saddest thing of all was really the resources that they had, like, being in a class where there’s 34 students, but there’s only six textbooks.”

The complaint delivers a crushing assessment of these schools’ failure to educate students: Proficiency rates “hover near zero in nearly all subject areas,” it says. “Illiteracy is the norm.”

A group of black leaders are calling on Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to “claim her place in history” by negotiating a settlement in the landmark Detroit ‘Right to Literacy’ case including national civil rights attorney Ben Crump, Martin Luther King III, and Yvonne M. White, president of the Michigan State Conference of the NAACP. Together they joined Dr. Pamela L. Pugh to call on Gov. Whitmer to settle the case of Gary B. v Snyder and ensure equal access to education for African American children in Michigan.

In her letter to the governor, Dr. Pugh said, “the courts have now acknowledged that they and fellow Detroit students, like their counterparts in surrounding more affluent and mostly white neighborhoods, have a fundamental right to an education which at the very least guarantees them a basic right to literacy.”
“Gov. Whitmer cannot correct every injustice that life has heaped upon the black community, but she can walk through the door opened by the court and make sure their children have a reasonable education,” Crump said. “I am living proof that with an education, everything else is possible.”

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