Eight Detroit-area public school students returning to classes this week are plaintiffs against a school system they say has failed them. Their families and the American Civil Liberties Union say that the Highland Park school system has denied the students the right to learn to read, and that the state has a responsibility to fix that. Michelle Johnson has five children in Highland Park schools. Her daughter is heading into the 12th grade, but can read at only about the fourth-grade level. “It’s heartbreaking every morning when you get up and people look in your face and say, ‘Oh, that’s that lady, her daughter can’t read,’ ” Johnson says.
Johnson says she noticed her daughter struggling a few years ago and wanted her to repeat the eighth grade. But the school wouldn’t do that, she says. “They moved her onto the ninth. She failed some of her ninth-grade classes, [and] they still passed her onto the 10th,” she says. Attorneys for the ACLU say Johnson’s daughter is not alone. They point to Michigan state data showing that only one-quarter of the Highland Park district’s sixth- and seventh-graders passed the state’s reading exam last year.
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