Advance Notice: Briefs

The ‘right to read’ lawsuit is closed, literacy not considered a constitutional right

By: - June 11, 2020 2:30 pm

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After a long battle to ensure students have a constitutional right to a basic minimum education and a settlement from the state, the historic “right to read” lawsuit has been dropped and the case dismissed without setting a precedent.

The “right to read” lawsuit, Gary B. v. Whitmer, which originally was filed against then-Gov. Rick Snyder, demanded Detroit students have “access to literacy by ensuring that they are provided with evidence-based, grade-appropriate programs for literacy instruction and intervention and monitoring conditions that deny students access to literacy such as lack of teachers and deplorable school conditions.” 

The lawsuit was led by seven students from Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) in 2016.

In May, Whitmer settled the landmark suit and agreed to propose legislation that would give DPSCD at least $94.4 million for literacy programs, provide $280,000 to the student-plaintiffs to access “high-quality” literacy program or otherwise further their education and provide $2.7 million to DPSCD to fund literacy-related efforts. 

The three-judge Court of Appeals panel decided in favor of the students with a 2-1 decision in April, but the GOP-led Legislature asked that the full court rehears the case.

On Wednesday, the court ruled that because of the governor’s settlement, the case did not need a rehearing.  

“All other pending motions in this appeal are hereby denied as moot,” the court order said. 

This means that Whitmer’s settlement still stands, but a “basic minimum education” is not considered a constitutional right.

“It’s not precedent, but it’s not overturned,” Mark Rosenbaum, the lawyer representing the students’ case, told Detroit Free Press. “Its influence will be throughout the nation because of the reasoning and only those who don’t think that Black children’s lives matter will resist it. Those words will live forever.”

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue is a former Michigan Advance reporter who covered education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.