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Federal Appeals Court Rules Students Have Right to an Education

A federal appeals court ruled that American children have a fundamental right to at least a basic education.

Detroit Students File Suit Against the State of Michigan Over Educational Rights

In the ruling, Sixth Circuit Court Judge Eric Clay wrote that a group of Detroit students in their suit against the state of Michigan that education, “is essential to nearly every interaction between a citizen and her government.”

“Where, as Plaintiffs allege here, a group of children is relegated to a school system that does not provide even a plausible chance to attain literacy, we hold that the Constitution provides them with a remedy,” wrote Clay.

The suit was filed in 2016, where the students documented alarming conditions in their schools. Issues included rodent infestations, a lack of up-to-date textbooks, and not enough certified teachers.

The students argued that the state was responsible for those issues since it controlled the school district for almost two decades.

They also claimed that policies implemented by the state encouraged the situation to worsen. Those policies included creating competition between the state’s main school district and scores of charter schools.

The suit included children who attended both public and charter schools. They argued that the state of Michigan had deprived too many children of the right to become literate, productive adults.

Three Sixth Circuit Judges Agree that Constitution Guarantees the Right to an Education

The case was initially thrown out because a trial court judge believed the constitution doesn’t guarantee the right to an education. He said this despite agreeing that the school conditions were deplorable.

However, three sixth circuit judges who heard the case on appeal disagreed with the trial court judge.

Judge Clay wrote that “the unique role of public education as a source of opportunity separate from the means of a child’s parents creates a heightened social burden to provide at least a minimal education. Thus, the exclusion of a child from a meaningful education by no fault of her own should be viewed as especially suspect.”

“Every meaningful interaction between a citizen and the state is predicated on a minimum level of literacy, meaning that access to literacy is necessary to access our political process,” Clay added.

Eric Murphy, a third judge on the panel, offered a dissent.

“If I sat in the state legislature or on the local school board, I would work diligently to investigate and remedy the serious problems that the plaintiffs assert,” he wrote. “But I do not serve in those roles. And I see nothing in the complaint that gives federal judges the power to oversee Detroit’s schools in the name of the United States Constitution.”