News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

ACLU Files 'Groundbreaking' Lawsuit Claiming Right To Learn To Read

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed suit against the state on Thursday on behalf of about 1,000 grade-school kids from Highland Park, Mich. who are not reading at grade level.

The ACLU says this is a "ground breaking" lawsuit with potentially national implications that asserts "a child's fundamental right to read." The lawsuit, according to The Detroit Free Press, is grounded in guarantees by state law and the Michigan state constitution that children will either be reading at grade level or will be provided special assistance to get there.

"No case ever filed anywhere in the U.S. has addressed a school system in such dire straits," Mark Rosenbaum, University of Michigan Law School Professor and ACLU cooperating attorney said in a statement. "The Highland Park School District is among the lowest achieving school districts in the nation, let alone Michigan. How the State responds to this lawsuit — whether it opposes a right to read for the two-thirds of Highland Park schoolchildren who score below proficient on the Michigan reading assessment test — reveals its concern for the fate of these children and their community. The destiny of these children will be the destiny of Michigan."

The Washington Post reports that the ACLU had some of the students tested by an expert. A 14-year-old identified as Quentin was found to be reading at a first-grade level and when asked to write a letter to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder describing his school, this is what he turned in:

"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."

The Post has examples of the hand-written letters (pdf) on its website.

The Free Press offers some sobering statistics:

"According to the Detroit Literacy Coalition, 47% of metro Detroiters are functionally illiterate, as are about 18% of Michigan residents. The ACLU said fewer than 10% of Highland Park students in third through eighth grades are proficient in reading and math, based on data gathered from the Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP) scores.

"By 11th grade, students are not doing any better, with fewer than 10% scoring proficient in reading and math."

Michigan Public Radio reports that the governor has not addressed the news.

"This lawsuit comes after Gov. Rick Snyder appointed an emergency manager in May to fix Highland Park Schools' budget deficit, which rose from $6.6 million to more than $11 million," MPR reports. "Last month, the district decided to charter all of its schools next year, due to the deficit."

Highland Park, by the way, is directly adjacent to Detroit.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.