Are schools required to teach children how to read? The question may seem simple to some, but under the eyes of the law, it can get murky. A court battle in Michigan, in which students from Detroit Public Schools argued that their constitutional rights had been violated by not being given adequate learning resources, perhaps due to their race, found that states are not required to teach children how to read. The lawyers for the students argued that the conditions of their schools as well as the lack of resources violated their due process and was in conflict with the 14th Amendment. In July, Judge Stephen J. Murphy III ruled that access to literacy was not a fundamental right.
“Accordingly, the state’s alleged failure to provide literacy access to plaintiffs fails to state an equal protection claim on the basis of burdening a fundamental right,” Murphy wrote.
Attorneys in Michigan are now continuing to fight for the distinction to be made under the law via an appeal. Mark Rosenbaum, one of the lawyers representing the students, says “These children are being disenfranchised…Children are not receiving the basic skills to participate in a democracy.” Whether literacy education is a basic right has yet to be established in the courts.
While the appeals process continues in Michigan, Rosenbaum has filed a similar case in California.
Eighty-two percent of students in Detroit Public Schools are African- American, according to the Michigan Department of Education. A PRRI survey from 2017 showed that 54 percent of Americans believe ensuring all children have equal opportunities to succeed was a critical issue to them personally. However, the vast majority (89 percent) of Americans say we have a moral responsibility to make sure that every child in the U.S. has an opportunity to succeed. While similar numbers of black (93 percent) and white (87 percent) Americans agree with this statement, black Americans are significantly more likely than white Americans to completely agree (69 percent vs. 42 percent).