66 Years After Historic Brown v. Board of Education Ruling, Michigan Settles Right to Education Lawsuit

Maria Perez
May 17, 2020 - 2:36

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Days before the 66th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling, the state of Michigan settled a lawsuit that claimed  Detroit students were denied their fundamental rights to an education.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s (D) office said in a statement on May 14 that it settled with plaintiffs in the Gary B. Literacy case, which was filed by Detroit students. In 2016, the suit was filed against Whitmer’s predecessor, Rick Snyder, along with other state department officials, to ensure that all students in Detroit and across the state of Michigan have a right to quality education. 

According to the suit, students in Detroit claimed that learning was impossible due to multiple problems in Detroit public schools, such as rodent-infestations, unqualified teachers, and being given the wrong textbooks for different classes, The New York Times reported. A federal appeals court sided with the students in the ruling last month. 

“We are pleased to announce that we have reached a settlement that will help secure the right of access to literacy for students in Detroit who faced obstacles they never should have faced,” the statement read. “This landmark court decision recognizes that every child in Michigan deserves an opportunity to obtain an education, which is essential to having a strong foundation in life and a brighter future.”

Mark Rosenbaum, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney, told The Washington Post that the ruling was “historic” and compared it to the Brown v. Board of Education ruling.

“This is what the force of history looks like.,” Rosenbaum told The Post. “Almost 66 years to the day that Brown v. Board of Education was decided, the Detroit community and Gov. Whitmer forged an historic settlement recognizing the constitutional right of access to literacy. By accepting the court’s decision that a minimum basic education is a foundational requirement for full participation in our democracy, Gov. Whitmer is acknowledging that no child should be denied his or her right to fully pursue the American Dream based on the color of their skin or their family’s income.”

According to the settlement, the plaintiffs, who are seven Detroit students, won $280,000 in the case, The Detroit Metro Times reported. The Detroit Public Schools Community District will also receive $2.72 million for literacy-related programming, according to the news outlet.

Brown v. Board of Education

Today, May 17, marks the 66th anniversary of the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision, which declared racial segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously decided that racial segregation in public schools violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. 

Racially segregated schools were made legal by Plessy v. Ferguson, which stated that segregation in public facilities was constitutional as long as the Black and white facilities were equal. Many civil rights groups challenged racial segregation and brought on class action lawsuits on behalf of Black students, asking for court orders to allow Black students to attend white public schools. 

Brown v. Board of Education was filed by Oliver Brown against the Topeka, Kansas, school board. Brown, who was a parent of one of the children denied admittance to Topeka’s white schools, claimed the city’s racial segregation violated the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause because the city’s schools were not equal to each other. After the federal district court dismissed the claim, Brown appealed to the Supreme Court, where all school segregation actions were reviewed together. 

Despite the Supreme Court’s decision, there still is segregation in schools. A study released last year by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA along with the Center for Education and Civil Rights at Pennsylvania State University found that segregation in schools began to rise again in the 1990s.

The study found that white students attend schools where 69 percent of the student population is white, while Latinx students attend schools where the population is 55 percent Latinx. The report also uncovered that segregation for Black students is currently on the rise. Black students make up 15 percent of enrollment and attend schools that average 47 percent of Black students, according to the report.

States like New York, California, Maryland, and Illinois are still the most segregated in the U.S. for African American students, the report found. Sixty-five percent of African American students in New York attended “intensely segregated minority schools,” while California is the most segregated school for Latinx students.

In order to end segregation in schools, the researchers of the report stated there should be federal government programs to help bring integration to schools and federally funded research on the most effective strategies to do so.

“Segregation can only be countered by information and successful plans involving more than the school districts, including housing, transportation, and other local and regional government agencies and private partners,” the report stated. “The choice we face now is about what kind of communities and society we want to have.”

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