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14 Jul, 2020 17:37

‘Threat to the community’? Detroit student sent to DETENTION CENTER during pandemic for not doing her homework

‘Threat to the community’? Detroit student sent to DETENTION CENTER during pandemic for not doing her homework

A Michigan teenager was incarcerated during the Covid-19 outbreak for breaching probation, despite the governor’s moratorium on locking up youthful violators who weren’t “threats to the community.” Her crime? Not doing homework.

A 15-year-old black girl has spent over a month in the Children’s Village juvenile detention facility outside Detroit, after being deemed a “threat to the community” by Oakland County Family Court Judge Mary Ellen Brennan for merely failing to do her homework while attending high school remotely during the pandemic. Shot through with hints of racism and discrimination against a child with a learning disability, the case has many up in arms.

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Grace” – her middle name – is believed to be the only Michigan student to be incarcerated for failing to complete online coursework, according to attorneys and advocates who spoke to investigative outlet ProPublica. Indeed, with schools haphazardly switching to remote instruction amid the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of kids across the country have been struggling to complete their work, or even log in at all. As many as a third of Minneapolis Public School students, a quarter of Chicago Public School students, and some 15,000 in Los Angeles have reportedly fallen behind.

But Grace was required to complete her schoolwork as a condition of the “intensive probation” sentence she received in April for assault and larceny charges incurred in late 2019. The teen had gotten in trouble for fighting with her mother and stealing a cell phone from a classmate, but had no further contact with the police since October and was reportedly getting along with her mom.

That apparently didn’t matter to Judge Brennan, who found the teen “guilty of failure to submit any schoolwork and getting up for school.” Deeming Grace a “threat to the community,” Brennan had her shipped off to Children’s Village, where she remains as of Tuesday, having spent upwards of a month in close confinement with other juvenile offenders.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer actually suspended the incarceration of juvenile probation violators in March in an executive order, one of several passed in response to the burgeoning coronavirus pandemic. Unless directed by court order, authorities were encouraged to avoid locking kids up unless they were a “substantial and immediate safety risk to others.

Diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and a mood disorder, Grace is considered “special needs” and entitled to individualized attention from teachers to ensure she is staying on task, her mother told ProPublica. Unaware Grace was accustomed to individual instruction, her new caseworker saw her inability to wake up in time for class and complete schoolwork as acting out and filed the probation violation before even checking with her teacher. It later emerged in court that Grace’s mother had lied to the caseworker “in a moment of frustration” and her assessment that the child wasn’t completing her work was not even factual.

But it was too late. The caseworker had gone into court planning to ask the judge to detain Grace because, according to her notes, she “clearly doesn’t want to abide by the rules of the community.” Grace’s teacher said the child was “not out of alignment with most of my other students,” but had to leave the hearing to teach a class. Brennan told the girl her probation was “zero tolerance” and had her taken away in handcuffs.

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The case has raised the hackles of racial justice advocates and thrown a spotlight on the intrinsic injustices of the criminal justice system, which have trickled down over the decades to affect even schoolchildren via what is termed the ‘school to prison pipeline’. Of the 24 delinquency cases that resulted in incarceration since the pandemic reduced court operations, more than half involved black children, continuing a trend that has seen 42 percent of juvenile cases that passed through the court over the past four years involve black kids. Just 15 percent of Oakland County youth are black.

US juvenile detention facilities’ occupation rate fell 24 percent during the first month of the coronavirus epidemic, according to a survey conducted across 30 states. The decline was driven both by a drop in referrals and an increase in releases, in compliance with Whitmer’s order to get as many young people out of state facilities as possible.

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