Due to coronavirus, online learning has been a struggle for most.
But after one Black, disabled teen in Michigan was jailed for not doing her homework during the pandemic — leaders came together to have her released. And after 80 days in detention, she has been released.
ProPublica was the first to report on the 5-year-old Black student, “Grace,” who has ADHD, at Groves High School in Beverly Hills, Michigan.
Back in mid-May, Judge Mary Ellen Brennan sentenced Grace to a juvenile detention facility after finding her “guilty on failure to submit to any schoolwork and getting up for school.” The Michigan Court of Appeals overturned Brennan’s ruling and ordered Grace be released from the detention facility immediately on July 31st.
“We are elated,” said an attorney for Grace, Jonathan Biernat, following her release, as ProPublica reported.
“We are so happy for Grace to be going home. It is amazing that she is going to be able to sleep at home tonight.” Jodi Cohen reported on Twitter that “within two hours of the court order” Grace’s mother picked her up and they left the detention facility “emotional and happy.”
Brennan viewed reports sharing how Grace had failed to complete her schoolwork while participating in remote learning as a violation of the probation she had been put on for assaulting her mother during a fight and stealing a cell phone from another student, according to ProPublica.
“She was not detained because she didn’t turn her homework in,” Brennan said, according to ProPublica. “She was detained because I found her to be a threat of harm to her mother based on everything I knew.”
Brennan ultimately ordered Grace to be detained despite the fact Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order in March to suspend the detention of juveniles found to have violated the terms of their probation during the coronavirus pandemic unless they were found to pose an immediate safety risk.
But according to court records obtained by ProPublica, it was revealed that Grace’s teacher had told her caseworker that Grace’s transition to remote learning was on par with most of her other students.
Grace’s sentencing sparked outrage and led to multiple protests and public condemnation from high-level public figures including former Secretary of State and presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who tweeted “Let her go” on July 21.
Michigan Liberation, Color of Change, and the Advancement Project also launched a Free Grace petition, calling on Brennan to immediately release Grace and resign from the bench of the Oakland County Family Court.
In addition, six members of Congress called on Attorney General William Barr and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to intervene in Grace’s case in late July. They argued, “a child who is grappling with the stress of an unprecedented pandemic, coupled with a history of mental health issues, and living with disabilities should never be criminalized for her lack of participation in an online learning program.”
But despite Grace being released from juvenile detention last week, she’s expected to continue on probation pending a further order from the court. But state leaders have cautioned Grace is “just one case in our broken criminal justice system,” as Michigan’s U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell tweeted. “Let this case shine a light and raise awareness of the work we still need to do.”
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.
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