When I answered the phone, the caller began by asking:
“Is there a ProPublica Michigan?”
She had a story to tell, about a teenage girl who was in juvenile detention for not doing her online schoolwork during the pandemic. The girl was her daughter.
BREAKING: “Grace,” the Michigan teen who was detained for not doing her online coursework, is to be released from detention “IMMEDIATELY,” according to an order from the Michigan Court of Appeals that I just received. https://t.co/R3WdkK1tVp
A high school sophomore is currently in a Michigan juvenile detention center for not doing her online schoolwork during the pandemic.
Yes, you read that correctly.
I spent time in Michigan learning about Grace and her case.
This is her story:
As a journalist, I’m so heartened to see people take interest in this story. If it’s helpful, I hope you’ll reply here to connect with one another and share.
But what did Grace’s teacher have to say?
She had told Grace’s caseworker that the teenager was “not out of alignment with most of my other students.”
“Let me be clear,” she wrote, “this is no one’s fault because we did not see this unprecedented global pandemic coming.”
This story has exploded since @ProPublicaIL w/ @Freep and @BridgeMichigan published it this morning.
What I’ve seen:
- #FreeGrace trending here on Twitter
- a Change.org.. petition
- People wanting to provide financial and legal help, and tutoring, to Grace.
Grace was detained even though @Govwhitmer encouraged judges to keep juveniles out of detention and release any who weren’t a “substantial and immediate safety risk to others.”
(Judge Brennan declined through a court administrator to comment on Grace’s case.)
Let’s zoom out a bit.
From January 2016 - June 2020, 42% of the 4,800 juvenile cases referred to the Oakland County juvenile court involved Black youth. Only about 15% of the county’s youth are Black.
(There’s no ProPublica Michigan, but I started looking into it anyway.)
A bit about the girl, Grace: she’s a HS sophomore. She’s been raised by her mother. She likes winter sports, road trips and composing music, her mother says. They appeared in a “Pure Michigan” tourism ad.
Grace was handcuffed and led out of the courtroom. She was taken to Children’s Village detention center. She remains there today.
Her mom counts every day she has been there. Today is Day No. 61.
BREAKING AND NEW: Families are giving up custody of their kids so the students can get financial aid. We've found dozens of examples in the Chicago suburbs. propublica.org/article/univer…..
Black youth in Michigan are incarcerated more than 4X as often as their white peers, according to an analysis of federal government data by @SentencingProj.
Grace is Black and lives in Oakland County, Michigan, a mostly white community and a county where a disproportionate percentage of Black youth are involved with the juvenile justice system. More on that later.
Because of the confidentiality of juvenile court cases, it’s impossible to determine how unusual Grace’s situation is.
Also: Grace has special needs, and an education plan that requires teachers to make sure she stays on task. She gets extra time to complete work.
When Birmingham Public Schools, like schools everywhere, shut down and remote learning began, she struggled.
On top of that: COVID-19 hasn’t made schooling easy for anyone, anywhere.
Districts have documented tens of thousands of students failing to log in or complete work:
- 15K LA high schoolers
- 1/3 of Minneapolis public school students
- 1/4 of Chicago public school students
Grace and her mother appeared before Judge Mary Ellen Brennan, who found Grace “guilty on failure to submit to any schoolwork and getting up for school” and called Grace a “threat to (the) community.” https://t.co/fkLUBJyXRm
On Juneteenth, Grace’s mom wasn’t able to celebrate with her daughter as she usually does. They talked the only way they could, through a video call monitored by a caseworker.
“Stay strong,” Grace told her mom.
“You stay strong, too,” her mother replied. “I love you.”
The teen was put on probation in April, via a Zoom court hearing, on two charges filed against her in 2019: assault (fight with mother) and theft (stole classmate’s cellphone). Police referred the cases to juvenile court.
She was required to do her schoolwork, per probation.
Last thing: I’ve spent many years reporting on education issues. If you want to get my next investigation and the work of my colleagues at @ProPublicaIL, sign up here: propub.li/3evxVuA..
Two weeks after her probation began, Grace’s caseworker filed a violation of probation against her for failing to do her schoolwork and sleeping in. The Oakland County prosecutor’s office brought the case back to court.
Wow, that was fast! Within two hours of the court order, Grace's mother arrived at Children's Village to get Grace. The teenager had her bags packed and was ready to go. They quickly left and were emotional and happy, according to her lawyers.
BREAKING response to our investigation: Illinois to ban isolated seclusion of students in Illinois schools, saying the practice has been “misused and overused to a shocking extent.”
I broke the story for @ProPublicaIL, @Freep and @BridgeMichigan earlier this month. It’s been an unreal couple of weeks for the family.
Please look. These are the meds that some immigrant kids in custody are being given — without parental consent — to control their emotions and behavior. twitter.com/ProPublicaIL/s…..