Reporter Unveils How 15-Year-Old Was Put In Juvenile Detention For Not Completing Schoolwork Amid Pandemic

A 15-year-old from Michigan was incarcerated in May after failing to finish her online schoolwork, according to a report.

The girl, identified as Grace, has been in custody at a Detroit area juvenile detention center for almost two months now after a judge ruled that she violated her probation by not completing online coursework during the coronavirus pandemic.

15-Year-Old Put Away In Juvenile Detention Amid Pandemic
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On Tuesday, ProPublica reported that Grace has ADHD which she said caused her to feel unmotivated and overwhelmed while online learning.

“Who can even be a good student right now?” said Ricky Watson Jr., executive director of the National Juvenile Justice Network. “Unless there is an urgent need, I don’t understand why you would be sending a kid to any facility right now and taking them away from their families with all that we are dealing with right now.”

Grace, the girl’s middle name, was previously placed on probation after an alleged fight with her mother and for thefts at school, the report said. In the past, police have been called to the family’s home.

The presiding judge of the Oakland County Family Court Division, Judge Mary Ellen Brennan, ruled that Grace was “guilty on failure to submit to any schoolwork and getting up for school.” She also cited Grace as a “threat to (the) community,” the report said.

15-Year-Old Put Away In Juvenile Detention Amid Pandemic
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“She hasn’t fulfilled the expectation with regard to school performance,” Brennan said as she sentenced Grace. “I told her she was on thin ice and I told her that I was going to hold her to the letter, to the order, of the probation.”

According to ProPublica, Grace’s caseworker, Rachel Giroux, allegedly filled a violation of probation to have Grace detained before confirming if the teenager had been meeting her academic requirements. She then emailed Grace’s teacher, Katherine Tarpeh, who said she was “not out of alignment with most of my other students.”

“Let me be clear that this is no one’s fault because we did not see this unprecedented global pandemic coming,” Tarpeh wrote, adding that Grace “has a strong desire to do well.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order temporarily suspending the confinement of juveniles who violate probation unless directed by court order in March. The order also encouraged eliminating any form of detention unless they posed a “substantial and immediate safety risk to others.”

15-Year-Old Put Away In Juvenile Detention Amid Pandemic
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A hearing to review the case is set for September 8 but until then, the judge ordered Grace to remain at Children’s Village juvenile detention center.

“It just doesn’t make any sense,” said Grace’s mother, identified by ProPublica as Charisse. “Every day I go to bed thinking, and wake up thinking, ‘How is this a better situation for her?’”

Just a few days after Grace was handcuffed in the courtroom and sent to the juvenile detention center, Charisse said she received a letter from her daughter.

“I want to change. I want to be a better person,” the letter said, according to ProPublica. “Here I’ve realized how much you care and love me. I’m sorry I took that for granted. Please continue to send me pictures of me and you or just with anyone. I love you mommy and I miss you.”

15-Year-Old Put Away In Juvenile Detention Amid Pandemic
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To further complicate things, Charisse reached out to a reporter by the name of Jodi Cohen who quickly discovered there is no such place as ProPublica Michigan.

Cohen went on to reveal how people can help Grace in this trying time.

“This story has exploded since @ProPublicaIL w/ @Freep and @BridgeMichigan published it this morning. What I’ve seen:

#FreeGrace trending here on Twitter

– a petition

– People wanting to provide financial and legal help, and tutoring, to Grace.”

If you feel led to help, click here to read the full coverage, complete with resources to send assistance to Grace and her family.

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