Detroit Students Sued For Literacy And Won

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Above photo: Following a four-year battle with the state of Michigan, seven students from Detroit won a $94.4 million settlement to improve literacy in schools across the state. Christian Charisius/picture alliance via Getty Images.

Following a historic lawsuit brought by seven Black students, the state of Michigan will put more than $94 million into a state-wide literacy campaign for public schools.

The hard-fought, four-year Gary B. literacy case, in which seven Black students in Detroit sued the state of Michigan in 2016 to improve the school system and literacy access, was settled on May 14 in favor of the students, Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s office announced. In the complaint, students shared a laundry list of educational and literacy issues in the public schools, such as predominantly having books with pictures instead of words in primary school when students are first taught to read. 

The landmark settlement means that $94.4 million will support literacy-related programs and initiatives throughout the Detroit Public School Community District (DPSCD), for which Whitmer will propose legislation during her first term and the seven students will share a $280,000 payout. The governor will also create two Detroit-based task forces: The Detroit Literacy Equity Task Force will include students, parents, literacy experts, teachers, paraprofessionals and community leaders to conduct annual literacy evaluations and policy recommendations; and the Detroit Educational Policy Committee will focus on the educational ecosystem in Detroit as a whole.

“Today, I’m overwhelmed with joy for the opportunities this settlement opens up for students in Detroit,” Jamarria Hall, a 2017 graduate of Osborn High School and part of the class of plaintiffs in Gary B. v. Whitmer, said in a joint press statement with the governor. “Starting this journey four years ago parents and students knew we wanted a better education, and now to really be heard for the first time means everything.” 

“I have always said that every student, no matter where they come from, has a birthright to a quality public education,” said Whitmer. “Students in Detroit faced obstacles to their education that inhibited their ability to read—obstacles they never should have faced. In the future, I will remain committed to ensuring paths to literacy for children across Michigan. Today’s settlement is a good start, but there’s more work to do to create paths to opportunity for our children.” 

Part of that guidance will also come from evidence-based literacy strategies, which the governor has tasked the Michigan Department of Education to teach school districts how to use and to focus on reducing class, racial, and ethnic disparities.  

“This is what the force of history looks like. Almost 66 years to the day that Brown v. Board of Education was decided, the Detroit community and Governor Whitmer forged a historic settlement recognizing the constitutional right of access to literacy,” said Mark Rosenbaum, director of Public Counsel Opportunity Under Law.

“While there is much work left to be done, today’s settlement paves the way for the State of Michigan to fulfill its moral obligation to provide equal educational opportunities to children that have been denied a fair shake for far too long. This victory is their victory, and in this moment the children and their families and the teachers of Detroit have taught a nation what it means to fight for justice and win.” 

To learn more about this landmark case, take a look at it here, and see the statement from the governor’s office here.