By Christine Ferretti and Beth LeBlanc, The Detroit News
The Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that Detroit students have a fundamental but limited right to basic minimum education and have standing to sue the state for alleged violations of that right.
In a 2-1 ruling, the appeals court panel warned that the right to education “is narrow in scope” to include access to skills deemed “essential for the basic exercise of other fundamental rights and liberties, most importantly participation in our political system.”
“This amounts to an education sufficient to provide access to a foundational level of literacy — the degree of comprehension needed for participation in our democracy,” according to the majority opinion.
But the appeals panel ruled the students failed to make adequate arguments about equal protection and compulsory attendance at schools that are “schools in name only.”
The lawsuit has been closely been watched by education, legal and civil rights experts, some of whom have said it would end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the 2016 case, seven Detroit students alleged a lack of books, classrooms without teachers, poor building conditions and extreme temperatures deprived them access to literacy in their public schools. The state of Michigan countered that decreased student enrollment triggered a loss of money to Detroit schools and that the state is not responsible for what happened in the district during two decades of on-again, off-again oversight.
Detroit U.S. District Court Judge Stephen J. Murphy III, an appointee of President George W. Bush, originally dismissed the students’ claim of a fundamental right to a basic minimum education, which the divided panel reversed.
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