A heartbreaking new report by ProPublica reveals how a 15-year-old Black girl in Michigan was incarcerated after allegedly failing to keep up with her online school work.
The teen, who is currently in custody at the Children’s Village juvenile detention center in the Detroit area, has been in the facility since May. The student, identified in the story as Grace, reportedly had difficulty keeping up with her school work after her school switched to online learning due to COVID-19. Grace has ADHD, a learning disability that makes it difficult for her to receive an education without live class sessions.
Grace was previously placed on probation following a fight with her mother and petty theft on school property. However, Judge Mary Ellen Brennan later decided to incarcerate the teen, not for any additional behavioral issues, but because of an alleged failure to do her school work. In her ruling, Brennan said Grace was “guilty on failure to submit to any schoolwork and getting up for school,” calling Grace a “threat to [the] community.”
But Grace’s case worker, Rachel Giroux, filed a request that she be detained before ever confirming whether she was or wasn't completing her academic requirements. According to ProPublica, Grace’s teacher later told Giroux that her student was “not out of alignment with most of my other students.” Additionally, Grace was scheduled to have one-on-one help with a special education teacher the day after Giroux reported the alleged probation violation to Judge Brennan.
“Let me be clear that this is no one’s fault because we did not see this unprecedented global pandemic coming,” teacher Katherine Tarpeh wrote, saying Grace “is trying to get to the other side of a steep learning curve mountain and we have a plan for her to get there.”
It’s now been over a month since Grace’s mother has been able to see her. The 15-year-old is not scheduled to be released any time soon, despite Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s call for juvenile detention to be suspended in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Every day I go to bed thinking, and wake up thinking, ‘How is this a better situation for her?’” Grace’s mother told ProPublica. The teen had been attending family therapy with her mother following the incidents for which she received probation.
“My mom and I do get into a lot of arguments, but with each one I learn something and try to analyze why it happened,” she said during a hearing on April 21. “My mom and I are working each day to better ourselves and our relationship, and I think that the removal from my home would be an intrusion on our progress.”
As ProPublica points out, Grace’s case is just one example of the many ways Black students are disproportionately targeted and incarcerated by the juvenile “justice” system. “It is clear that kids of color are disproportionately involved and impacted by the system across the board,” Jason Smith, who works for the nonprofit Michigan Center for Youth Justice, told the outlet. “They are more likely to be arrested, less likely to be offered any kind of diversion, more likely to be removed out of the home and placed in some sort of confinement situation.”
People like Kim Kardashian, who retweeted the post below, are now calling attention to Grace’s incarceration and calling for reform.
— Jessica Jackson (@JessicaJackson) July 14, 2020
Grace’s case isn’t set for a hearing until Sept. 8, despite the fact that she is not receiving any direct schooling and meets less frequently with a therapist than she did prior to her incarceration.
“I want to change. I want to be a better person,” Grace wrote in a distressing letter to her mother. “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.”
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