DETROIT (CBS Detroit) – Detroit school children have no fundamental right to literacy, according to Gov. Rick Snyder’s attorneys, in the midst of a suit claiming the poor reading skills of Detroit students at five schools, deplorable building conditions, and lack of basic classroom necessities are the fault of the state.

A California public interest law firm is representing seven Detroit public school students who believe the education they are getting is substandard and essentially want the courts to rule that literacy is a fundamental constitutional right reports WWJ legal analyst Charlie Langton.

The suit looks to establish that literacy is a U.S. constitutional right.

“Decades of State disinvestment in and deliberate indifference to Detroit schools have denied Plaintiff schoolchildren access to the most basic building block of education: literacy,” the suit claims at its start.

The lawsuit says the schools are in “slum-like conditions” and “functionally incapable of delivering access to literacy.” The case, filed in federal court, directly accuses Gov. Rick Snyder, the state school board and others of violating the civil rights of low-income students.

The lawsuit could face some challenges says Langton, adding that while there are some difficulties with Detroit public schools, the judge could say that the solution may be better addressed by the elected school board, or through the political process.

In January, a review of Detroit school buildings uncovered mold, water damage and rodents – this after teacher sick-outs in protest of working conditions within the deteriorating school buildings.

A 2011 report showed 47 percent of Detroiters were functionally illiterate — meaning nearly half of they were not able to fill out basic forms for getting a job or having a command over basic understanding for such things as reading a prescription bottle.

The judge will conduct a hearing in February.

Comments (6)

    § 1 Encouragement of education.
    Sec. 1. Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of
    mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.
    History: Const. 1963, Art. VIII, § 1, Eff. Jan. 1, 1964.
    Former constitution: See Const. 1908, Art. XI, § 1.
    § 2 Free public elementary and secondary schools; discrimination.
    Sec. 2. The legislature shall maintain and support a system of free public elementary and secondary
    schools as defined by law. Every school district shall provide for the education of its pupils without
    discrimination as to religion, creed, race, color or national origin.

  2. Daniel Barch says:

    Are all the kids being denied literacy, or just some? How is it they are denying some of the kids but not all? Maybe it isn’t so much that they are denying the kids literacy, but that some of the kids are not taking advantage of the learning opportunity they are being given. Is that the governments fault? Many kids learn to read (at least some words, if not sentences and stories) before they even get to kindergarten or first grade. Whose fault is it that these kids aren’t taking advantage of those years too? You want literacy for everyone? DON’T PASS FIRST GRADE UNTIL YOU CAN READ AT A FIRST GRADE LEVEL!! I don’t care if you are nine and still in first grade. If you think you have some “right” to literacy, then stay in whatever grade you are until you obtain that grade’s level of literacy. Problem solved.

  3. David Shupes says:

    Its not a legal issue as its a social issue. I travel the world for work and I get to see a lot of different educational systems. Here is america the kids don’t want to learn and the ones who do can’t because of the ones who don’t want to.WHY? Teachers and the schools cannot discipline the disputers so they can’t teach. Sure the lack of proper equipment is a factor but no amount of nice schools buildings and money will fix the social issue. I don’t want to hear that kids disrupt because they are poor and have no hope, I can name to you several very poor countries that kick the butt of most american schools when it comes to education. Good lord there are countries a child doesn’t dare disrupt a teach for fear of punishment. You foolish American’s think the children have the right to do that.

  4. Many families cannot afford enough books for their children, and many schools do not have enough books. This is a major problem. In order for children to become proficient readers, they need to read a lot. They need access to high interest books. Please go to GoFundMe and type in “Books for all Kids” to see my project. or message me on Twitter @thismoment81

  5. I believe that any healthy child can be taught to read but only if the teaching method suits the child. It is the teacher’s responsibility to find the right way. Sadly, most of our present teachers are taught over dependence on phonics, and do not study a child who isn’t learning this way (English being very NON-phonetic!). I taught African-American children in Harlem and later in Hunters Point, and used a way of teaching developed by Sylvia Ashton-Warner, which worked for all my 4-year-olds, who had 15 to 75 words at the end of the pre-kindergarten year. I’ve written about this work in two books, The Sun’s Not Broken, A Cloud’s Just in the Way: On Child-Centered Teaching, and Pay Attention to the Children: Lessons for Teachers and Parents from Sylvia Ashton-Warner both available on my website:

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