Is there a right to literacy? The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that students do. In doing so, the court stripped public schools of what had effectively been immunity from negligence (“Detroit Students Have a Constitutional Right to Literacy, Court Rules,” The New York Times, Apr. 28). The ruling in Gary B. v. Whitmer breaks with decades of past decisions in which the courts have been reluctant to involve themselves in such matters.
A group of students in Detroit argued that they were deprived of a minimum education as guaranteed by Michigan’s constitution. Yet in three similar cases in the past (Peter W. v. San Francisco Board of Education, Donohue v. Copiague Union Free School District, and Hoffman v. Board of Education of the City of New York), judges ruled that courts should not interfere with the professional judgment of local school officials in administering their systems.
It’s unclear if the decision will be appealed. I hope it will reach the U.S. Supreme Court to finally clarify the issue. Schools have a duty to provide students with a basic education, but there are mitigating factors beyond their control.
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