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Michigan: Literacy Not A Right For Detroit School Kids

Lawyers representing Republican Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan have asserted before a district judge that literacy is not a constitutional right. The state of Michigan is currently battling a lawsuit accusing Snyder and the state school board of depriving Detroit students of their rights to literacy.

On Sept. 13, a California public interest law firm opened up a lawsuit against Michigan state on behalf of Detroit students. In court documents, the law firm asserts the state has denied Detroit's young people their right to an education through deplorable conditions and indifferent standards.

"Decades of State disinvestment in and deliberate indifference to Detroit schools denied Plaintiff schoolchildren access to the most basic building block education: literacy," the lawsuit claims state, reports WWJ-TV.

The plaintiffs cite the dilapidated conditions of several Detroit schools and the high rate of illiteracy in the city.

In court documents, Michigan Assistant Attorney General Timothy J. Haynes called on U.S. District Judge Stephen Murphy III to dismiss the lawsuit, stating that literacy is not recognized as a constitutional right, The Detroit News reports.

"But as important as literacy must be, the United States Supreme Court has unambiguously rejected the claim that public education is a fundamental right under the Constitution," Haynes wrote. "Literacy is a component or particular outcome of education, not a right granted to individuals by the Constitution."

Lawyers representing Snyder have asserted that Michigan has not been responsible for Detroit schools since 1999 and is not obligated to ensure that students graduating from the system are literate.

Staff attorney Kathryn Eidmann, who is representing the Detroit school students, countered that Michigan's defense does not acknowledge the squalid conditions of these facilities.

"There is no mention about the about the fact that hardly any of the students have access to teachers or books," Eidmann said. "These are schools where no state officials or state lawyer would send their child."

In May 2011, a study conducted by the Detroit Regional Workforce Fund found that nearly half of all city residents were functionally illiterate, according to WWJ-TV.

Karen Tyler-Ruiz, the director of the fund, defined functional illiteracy as "Not able to fill out basic forms, for getting a job -- those types of basic everyday [things]. Reading a prescription; what's on the bottle, how many you should take ... just your basic everyday tasks.

The study found that 47 percent of Detroit residents were functionally illiterate, making them incapable of fulfilling tasks that are required to succeed in the modern world.

If the plaintiffs are successful in their lawsuit against Michigan, they would essentially establish literacy as a constitutional right. Judge Murphy will decide in February whether or not to allow the case to proceed.

Sources: WWJ-TV (2), The Detroit News / Photo credit: Chief National Guard Bureau/Flickr

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