A Black Michigan 15-year-old girl is in a juvenile detention facility for failing to complete her homework during the coronavirus pandemic. ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power, opened an investigation in the case involving the teenager.
What We Know:
The teen is referred to as ‘Grace’ in the article. She was sent to the Children’s Village in Detroit on May 14 when a judge declared her not completing her homework to be a violation of her parole. Grace is on parole after an incident that happened last year when she was charged with stealing another student’s cellphone and assaulting her mother.
According to ProPublica, Grace hadn’t broken any laws again, she just failed to do her homework. Attorneys and advocates say they have never come across a case where a child is sent to a juvenile detention center for not doing their homework due to switching to online learning amid the coronavirus.
Some experts along with Grace’s mother believe this case may resemble systematic racial bias due to Grace being a Black girl in a predominately white school. In the community where Grace stays, a great percentage of Black youths are involved in the juvenile system.
Students, teachers, and parents have struggled with the adjustments of online learning following the pandemic. In California, 15,000 students have failed to log the completion of their assignments, as well as students in Minneapolis and Chicago. The real struggle comes with students with disabilities such as Grace. Her mother says she suffers from ADHD and has felt unmotivated to do her school when it switched to online.
Grace was given an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), an educational plan that is developed for children in special education. Grace’s IEP gave the requirement of teachers to check-in with her to make sure she understood the material and allowed her extra time to complete homework and tests. According to her mother, when online learning began, Grace did not receive any of the support stated in her IEP.
Judge Mary Brennan sentenced Grace to strict probation, which will force her to complete all of the assignments she didn’t complete when her school switched to online learning. Grace’s caseworker, Rachel Giroux, was concerned she wasn’t doing her schoolwork once schools closed.
Giroux was forced to file the violation of her probation saying Grace does not care about the rules given to her. Judge Brennan gave the probation, she says, not as an act of punishment, but to provide Grace with an opportunity to get the treatment and services she needs. Upon speaking in court, Giroux admitted to not being aware of grace’s disability and did not know what they would require. She merely made the assumption of Grace not completing her work from a comment her mother said.
“Let me be clear that this is no one’s fault because we did not see this unprecedented global pandemic coming. Grace has a strong desire to do well and is trying to get to the other side of a steep learning curve mountain, and we have a plan for her to get there” said Giroux.
Governor Whitmer issued an executive order in March that suspended the confinement of juveniles who violate their probation unless directed by a court order. It also encouraged eliminating any form of detention or residential placement unless a young person posed as a threat to others.
As of June 29, at least 24 cases involving delinquency were filed and most of them ended up in juvenile facilities. More than half of the youths involved, like Grace, were Black. ProPublica identified these numbers as a racial disparity in the juvenile system.
Jason Smith, a member of the Michigan Center for Youth Justice says, “It is clear that kids of color are disproportionately involved and impacted by the system across the board. They are more likely to be arrested, less likely to be offered any kind of diversion, more likely to be removed out of the home and placed in some sort of confinement situation.”
Grace will continue to stay in the detention center until her next sentencing, which is set in place for September 8.