By Bria Brown

MICHIGAN (CBS DETROIT) – A 15-year-old Birmingham student was sent to a juvenile detention center in May for violating her probation for failing to finish online schoolwork, according to a report from the Detroit Free Press and Bridge Magazine.

The 15-year-old, who is named as Grace to protect her identity, was on probation for theft and pushing her mother.

Grace, who has ADHD, said she felt unmotivated and overwhelmed when online learning began April 15, about a month after schools closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the report.

In March, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order in March temporarily suspending the confinement of juveniles who violate probation unless directed by a court order. The executive order also encouraged eliminating any form of detention or residential placement unless a young person posed a “substantial and immediate safety risk to others.”

Michigan’s Supreme Court told juvenile court judges to determine which juveniles could be returned home.

The presiding Judge of the Oakland County Family Court Division, Judge Mary Ellen Brennan, ruled that Grace was “guilty on failure to submit to any schoolwork and getting up for school.” Brennan also said Grace was a “threat to (the) community,” citing the charges that led to her probation.

“She hasn’t fulfilled the expectation with regard to school performance,” Brennan said as she sentenced Grace. “I told her she was on thin ice and I told her that I was going to hold her to the letter, to the order, of the probation.”

In the first letter to her mother while in detention, Grace wrote, “I want to be a better person.” Credit: ProPublica

From March 16, when Michigan courts began limiting operations to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, to June 29, at least 24 delinquency cases involving youth in Oakland County court resulted in placements to juvenile facilities. Of those, more than half involved young people who are Black, like Grace, according to the report.

These numbers, which were obtained by ProPublica from the Oakland County Circuit Court, reflect long-standing racial disparities in the state and county’s juvenile justice system, the report stated. From January 2016 through June 2020, about 4,800 juvenile cases were referred to the Oakland court. Of those, 42% involved Black youth even though only about 15% of the county’s youth are Black.

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power.

Oakland County Executive David Coulter released a statement Tuesday in response to Grace’s story being published and gaining traction online.

“I spoke with the Judge this evening. While there are many more details that she is unable to share with me and the public to protect privacy of the minor and their family, I believe a review of this case within her court or during an appellate process is required,” said Coulter. “It has been a top priority of my administration to keep the young people and employees safe at Children’s Village during the pandemic and that includes limiting residency to immediate safety risks.”

Now, a change.org petition is collecting signatures for the Groves High School student.

Organizers say the petition’s goal is to reach 35,000 signatures to get her the support she needs and to dismiss her case.

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