The ACLU has filed suit against the agencies and people who, they claim, have failed the children of Highland Park. This is one of three districts where a state emergency manager was sent to take charge because of fiscal distress. He shut down the public schools and will turn the students over to charter operators. In this letter, the state’s ACLU director explains why it is suing:

The Detroit News’ July 16 editorial, “ACLU’s Highland Park lawsuit blames wrong defendants,” woefully missed the mark. The News says that the ACLU should have sued only the local school board for having failed the children of Highland Park.

The truth is, there’s plenty of blame to go around. That is why we sued the state, the district, its emergency manager, the state superintendent, the State Board of Education and the state Department of Education. All have failed the children of Highland Park. And all have a legal and moral responsibility to help craft a solution.

Governance of the district may be one important issue, but it is not the only one. The same amount of attention, or more, should be paid to the kinds of programs and academic interventions needed to remedy a district where 90 percent of the students, by 11th grade, are not reading proficiently and 100 percent are failing science and social studies, as measured by the Michigan Merit Exam.

The News never explains howchanging the governance structure would cure all these ills. The children in this district cannot read and there are no plans or programs in place for September when they return. A clear and specific commitment to begin the turnaround now by the state would go a long way in making certain that whoever runs the schools will be held accountable for delivering basic literacy skills.

State law is very specific: “A pupil who does not score satisfactorily on the 4th or 7th grade [MEAP] reading test shall be provided special assistance reasonably expected to enable the pupil to bring his or her reading skills to grade level within 12 months.” No entity charged with educating Highland Park’s children has taken on the educational deficiencies there in any meaningful way.

One of our clients, a seventh-grade student in Highland Park, struggled to write this sentence: “You can make the school gooder by geting people that will do the jod that is pay for get a football tame for the kinds mybe a baksball tamoe get a other jamtacher for the school.”

Although he attends school regularly, he only reads at a first-grade level. He has not been diagnosed with any special learning disability. He has never received any individualized reading intervention or remedial instruction. We should all be asking — how can this be?

This student’s community is in desperate need of intervention programs and education reform policies that put the best interests of the child front and center. And at the end of the day the buck should stop with the state, which is charged, under the constitution, with “maintaining and supporting a system of public education.” It should stop with the district, which is charged with implementing that system. It should stop with the emergency manager who, we understand, is working on a part-time basis in a district whose phones aren’t getting answered. It should stop with the teachers, and the unions, and the parents.

Our lawsuit therefore asks that both state and local officials get to work right away. We ask that they use research-based methodologies to improve basic literacy skills. We ask that they put trained teachers in the classrooms. We ask that they provide each child with the books they need. We ask that they provide safe and clean classrooms, bathrooms and hallways. We ask that they make a determined effort to help every child achieve reading and math literacy.

Rather than play the blame game, The News would better serve its readers by covering stories that show that all children can learn if given the right tools.

Kary Moss is executive director of the ACLU of Michigan.

From The Detroit News: