As everyone well knows by now, in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus and the global pandemic it has caused, schools had to close this spring. This was to prevent the gathering of people in small, enclosed spaces where transmission becomes far likelier. At least 15 million students in this country don’t have reliable internet access to access their (now digital) schoolwork from home, which has prompted petitions and other calls for help to get all students learning again in this crisis. The students who can access their lessons have had wildly disparate experiences, ranging from increased learning to flat-out lack of engaging material. This is the backdrop we’re dealing with here. 

Apparently officials in Birmingham, Michigan, didn’t get the memo about all the stuff going on. 

According to a report by ProPublica’s Jodi S. Cohen, a 15-year-old Black student the paper calls Grace to protect her identity, has been in a juvenile detention center since May for… not doing her digital homework. Grace is one of those kids who didn’t find much structure or instruction for her assignments. She drifted off task as a result, as have tens of thousands of other students around the country, per Cohen’s piece. 

A judge sentenced Grace to an enclosed space—the detention center—in the middle of a pandemic. Judge Mary Ellen Brennan reasoned that Grace’s lack of engagement with her schoolwork was a violation of Grace’s probation for past incidents. 

This happened as there’s a movement to build students’ social-emotional skills, not punish them unduly.

As far as experts can tell, there’s seemingly no precedent—and therefore no legal reason—for the judge’s decision to place Grace in juvenile detention for missing homework during this pandemic. From Cohen’s piece:

Because of the confidentiality of juvenile court cases, it’s impossible to determine how unusual Grace’s situation is. But attorneys and advocates in Michigan and elsewhere say they are unaware of any other case involving the detention of a child for failing to meet academic requirements after schools closed to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Read the ProPublica piece for yourself and tell us what you make of it. 

UPDATE: The 15-year-old girl will not be allowed to head home yet, as a Michigan judge decided to deny her release, even with the now viral story sparking protests.

The young girl pleaded with the judge, noting she wanted to be back home with her mother.

“I miss my mom. I can control myself. I can be obedient.”

But, Oakland County Judge Mary Ellen Brennan insisted during the three hour hearing that she believed Grace was making progress in the facility and wasn’t ready to go home.


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