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ACLU's "right to read" lawsuit moving forward

Boy in classroom with his hand raised
Mercedes Mejia
Michigan Radio
A charter advocacy group gives Michigan's charter law a passing grade

A Wayne County judge says the ACLU can move ahead with its lawsuit against Highland Park schools.

That suit claims children in Highland Park are being denied the "right to read," and that the state is ultimately responsible.  It's getting national attention for what could be wide repercussions. 

Lawyers for the ACLU say the state and the district knew about major problems, like less than 10 percent of Highland Park middle and elementary students testing at grade level in reading or math.  In reading alone, they're often four to eight grade levels behind.

Kary Moss is the executive director of the ACLU in Michigan.

"The state has failed to enforce this law that says that every child who's reading below grade level, according to 4th and 7th grade MEAP tests, should get individualized help and intervention." In court filings, state officials say the Michigan Constitution gives local districts full control over schools.

A spokesperson for the state department of education says they don't comment on pending litigation.

Moss says at today’s hearing, Judge Robert Ziolkowski called the attorneys into his chambers. She says the state and the district had asked the Judge to dismiss the case, but he allowed the ACLU to move ahead with the investigation portion of the suit.

Moss says the state’s strategy so far seems to be putting the responsibility on the charter school company that is now running the district.

"And everybody is kind of pointing their fingers at everybody else. But at the end of the day, the ultimate control and authority rests with the state."

The hearings will continue in December.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.