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Detroit’s Children Sue For Equity… and Unburdened by State Oversight, They Get Superintendent’s Support

September 19, 2018

USA Today reporters Chrissie Thompson, Michelle Miller, Maite Amorebieta and Joseph Annunciate wrote an article describing the decision of students from five of Detroit’s worst-performing public schools to appeal the decision of the U.S. District Court in Detroit to reject their lawsuit based on the premise that they had a constitutional right to be educated. Their argument was that literacy is a necessary prerequisite for voting, accessing the courts and serving in the military and since the revenue starved Detroit schools were incapable of guaranteeing literacy they should be fully funded.  The article opened with these two paragraphs describing the high school one of the plaintiffs attended:

Jamarria Hall’s Detroit high school reminded him of a state prison: chains on the doors, disgusting food and dirty water, bathroom stalls without doors. No computers, tablets or SMART Boards. The few books he saw in the school were older than he was.

“Is this really a school? Like, this has to be a movie,” Hall said he thought. “People were getting set up to fail.”

Later the article quotes their Superintendent, Nicholai Vitti, as noting that the conditions in Detroit would be unacceptable in nearby suburbs.

That wouldn’t be allowed at suburban schools, Vitti said. In other words, he said, “racist” policies created the mess at Detroit’s public schools– a mess he’s trying to fix, although with a limited budget.

“When people aren’t listening at the legislative level, if former governors don’t listen and don’t take heed to the challenges that children are facing, then you have to resort to other measures,” Vitti said. “And so parents resorted to the courts in order to hear their voice.”

What USA Today failed to mention– and Mr. Vitti undoubtedly intentionally failed to underscore– was that until a year ago the Detroit schools were under the control of the State and the state appointed “emergency managers” were forced by the State to impose austerity measures that undercut the ability of schools to provide a basic education to the students. Without referencing the governance issue, USA Today did flag the deficiencies:

The school system wasn’t receiving enough money from the state, so teachers weren’t trained in how to teach to current education standards, Vitti said. The curriculum was inappropriate for each grade level and was several years outdated.

Only 10 percent of students are reading at grade level. The school district needs $500 million to update its crumbling schools, and the district’s financial structure post-bailout only allocated $25 million to spend on such endeavors.

And the article did note the disparities that exist between the suburban schools bordering Detroit and the city itself, quoting the plaintiff Jamarria Hall:

“Grosse Pointe is right across the city border line. Right across,” Hall said, describing a well-to-do suburb. “iPad, tablet, SMART Boards everywhere. Their floor is glossy. Glossy clean. There’s no metal detector, no security guard. And it’s right across the border line.”

Right across the border line… a border line that is more impenetrable than the border between the US and Mexico. But in today’s United States, we want secure borders everywhere… especially between those raised in affluence and those raised in poverty.


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