Attorneys for the state of Michigan have filed a 62-page motion to dismiss a lawsuit on behalf of children in the Detroit Public Schools. The DPS student body is over 90 percent African American. The lawsuit argues that, based on the 14th Amendment, all children have the right to literacy. This right is denied by the conditions under which Detroit children are forced to learn: buildings infested with rodents, insects and mold; classrooms that are frigid in winter or steaming hot due to malfunctioning heaters; widespread shortages of books, desks, supplies and even teachers; and class sizes over 50. Teachers staged walkouts during the previous school year to protest these deplorable conditions.
Assistant Attorney General Thomas Haynes argued that “literacy is a component or particular outcome of education, not a right granted to individuals by the Constitution” and that “the U.S. Supreme Court has unambiguously rejected the claim that public education is a fundamental right.” Apparently he slept during class when Brown v. Board of Education was discussed.
Since 1999, DPS has been under a governor-appointed emergency manager; the elected school board has no real power. DPS debt ballooned under emergency management, with interest payments to the banks sapping much-needed funds. The tax base was eroded over decades, first by auto plant closings and then by falling home values after the banks created the foreclosure crisis. Low-performing, for-profit charter schools are a financial drain.
The current EM, federal Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes, presided over the Detroit municipal bankruptcy through which city EM Kevyn Orr slashed retiree pensions and handed city assets over to private, state or regional control.
‘Flint has no right to water’
Though out of the public spotlight, Flint, Mich., continues to suffer from a water crisis caused by decisions made by state-appointed EMs. The city was lead-poisoned after the EM decided to stop supplying water from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and draw water from the polluted Flint River. When Flint, in order to cut costs, did not add anti-corrosive chemicals, the lead from aging pipes leached into the water supply. Children with elevated blood lead levels were suddenly failing school.
Flint has since switched back to Detroit water, but the replacement of lead service lines has been at a snail’s pace. While properly filtered water has been deemed safe to drink, many households still lack correctly installed, functioning filters.
On Nov. 10, federal Judge David Lawson ordered the state to distribute bottled water door-to-door to anyone still unable to drink water from their faucet. The order came after the Natural Resources Defense Council sued on behalf of Flint residents.
As with literacy, the state denies that even water is a human right. On Nov. 21, attorneys for State Treasurer Nick Khouri filed a notice of appeal of the judge’s order, claiming it “increases the scope of the state’s emergency response to an unnecessary and insurmountable degree.” As of this writing on Nov. 27, the state has not begun delivering water, forcing residents to continue to go to a distribution center. Because Flint, like Detroit, is a majority-Black city teeming with the state’s poorest residents, many people do not own vehicles, which only increases their hardship.
The state of Michigan is brazenly asserting that Detroit and Flint have no rights the state is bound to respect. The election of Donald Trump as president has likely further emboldened these racist politicians.