How a lawsuit over Detroit schools could have an 'earth-shattering' impact nationwide
After two years of struggling to pass any of his community college classes, Jamarria Hall, 19, knows this for certain: His high school did not prepare him.
The four years he spent at Detroit’s Osborn High School were “a big waste of time,” he said, recalling 11th and 12th grade English classes where students were taught from materials labeled for third or fourth graders, and where long-term substitutes showed movies instead of teaching.
What’s less certain, however, is whether Hall's education in Detroit’s long-troubled school district was so awful, so insufficient, that it violated his constitutional rights.
That’s the question now before a federal appeals court that heard arguments last month in one of two cases that experts say could have sweeping implications for schools across the country.
The cases, now snaking their way through the federal courts, could yield “enormous, almost earth-shattering change in terms of educational funding and educational opportunity,” said Derek Black, a law professor at the University of South Carolina whose research has focused on educational rights and constitutional law.
The Detroit case was filed in 2016 on behalf of Hall and other students who attended rodent-infested, crumbling schools that lacked certified teachers and up-to-date textbooks. It argued that appalling conditions, including an eighth grader who taught math to his classmates for a month after his teacher quit, denied students a basic right to literacy.
A similar case was filed on behalf of students in Rhode Island last year, asserting that they were denied a basic civics education.
If either case succeeds and is ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court, Black said, it would establish for the first time that students have a “fundamental right” to an education that meets minimum standards of quality.
“It would lay down a huge marker in terms of how all the states across the nation fund or don’t fund their schools,” Black said.
And that would give new power to students.
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