ACLU files unprecedented class action law suit against Michigan school district

Highland Park High School (Credit:

The ACLU has filed an unprecedented class action law suit claiming that various Michigan state entities have failed to meet the requirements of providing remedial reading strategies to struggling readers. The named defendants in the suit are the State of Michigan, the State Board of Education, Michigan Department of Education, Michael Flanagan, Michigan’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Joyce Parker, Emergency Manager for the Highland Park School District, and the Highland Park School District (HPSD) itself.

The lawsuit seeks the “immediate implementation of of MCL 380.1278(8), which provides every regular education student who does not show proficiency on the reading portion of the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP), the State’s standardized reading proficiency test, in 4th or 7th grade shall receive ‘special assistance reasonably expected to enable the pupil to bring his or her reading skills to grade level within 12 months.'”

The complaint presents an incredibly tragic picture of the educational conditions and opportunities with HPSD. As alleged in the suit, two thirds of all students do not have the basic literacy skills necessary to meet ground-level standards of proficiency. According to the State of Michigan’s own data for HPSD, only 35% of 4th grade students in HPSD scored “Proficient” or higher on the MEAP reading test and only 25% of 7th grade students scored proficient or higher. Despite these dismal results, HPSD has violated MCL 3801278(8) by failing to provide the state-mandated remedial reading programs necessary to address these deficits.

According to the suit, despite these horrible numbers, HPSD has simply refused to provide its students the state-mandated remedial reading programs which would help address these deficits. When Michigan’s Department of Education was sent questions to answer prior to the filing of the class action, one specific question asked the district to provide documents relating to the reading intervention programs designed to meet the requirements of MCL 380.1278(8) or otherwise provid[ing] remedial reading instruction, its official response was, “To the best of my belief and knowledge, the Michigan Department of Education does not possess the documents you requested.”

The lawsuit alleges critical deficiencies in HPSD’s instruction and facilities. In the suit, it is alleged that there are insufficient textbooks to allow students to take books home, all copies must be made at teacher’s expense, there is inadequate heating to the extent that students must wear parkas and mittens in the weather, there exists inadequate academic support since the schools have neither counselors nor vice principals, the bathrooms are not properly maintained, often having walls smeared with feces, the library is inadequately supplied with books and students are not allowed to check the ones that are there out.

HPSD is a small school district in close proximity to Detroit. The city of Highland Park has 11,776 residents, the vast majority of whom are African American. Of the 973 students enrolled in HBSD, 99.59% are African American. Additionally, 82% qualify for Federal Free or Reduced Lunch program. In other words, this is a poor, African American town located next to Detroit.

The most heartbreaking thing detailed in this suit are the comments of the children named in the suit. The students were given a written prompt to asking them to tell the Governor about the school. Following are a few responses. Fourth grader D.I. wrote, My name is (deleted) this is what I what to do when I what grow up at Bussness laddy And can you give my a favorite By helping me to work my way up to keep up Jobs. C.M., a 6th grader, wrote, Well we can have playtime. And write lot of things. And read books. And have fun. The state goverment will come and come to the school. Tell the Teacher what to do! To help. A final example comes from F.C., a 7th grader, wrote, Hi My is (deleted) and i go the school at Barber focus and i would like you to make Better reading Books and cleaner water and supply for the classroom.

Almost as heartbreaking are the tales of the students about quality of instruction they receive in reading. L.M. reports that he was enrolled in a class titled “Virtual Learning English Arts.” In this class L.M. answered questions on the computer for the entire course. While he and his classmates worked on the computer, his teacher graded papers or completed other tasks on her computer. The teacher never lectured or used the blackboard for instruction. F.C. reports that he took a class called Read 180. The class contained 30 students who were split into two groups. While one group read aloud, the other group accessed self-directed work on the computer. The teacher never provided direct instruction.

If the ACLU’s suit is successful, Michigan and HPSD will need to institute quality remedial reading programs in this small, urban district.

Proportion of special needs children in public schools increasing

Public education advocates have long worried and complained that the school choice movement will make public school campuses largely places where only those lacking in the resources to attend better schools will be educated. Recent statistics seem to be supporting this argument. In an Associated Press piece today, Christina Hoag reported on how the proportion of special needs children in public schools is increasing. This is happening not because of increased identification of special needs children but rather because other students are increasingly opting “for alternatives that aren’t readily open to those requiring special education.” Read the rest of the article here. To learn more about how charter schools are difficult to get into for special education students, click here.

Understanding limited conservatorship in California

Understanding limited in conservatorships in California requires knowledge of the fact that there are different types of conservatorships that may be obtained.

In California, there are three types of conservatorships: general, limited, and Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS) conservatorships. A general conservatorship is for a person who lacks the ability to care for herself or her finances. It is usually for elderly people but is sometime for a young person, for example where the individual suffers a serious brain trauma. A limited conservatorship is for disabled individuals who do not need the higher level of care a completely incapacitated person requires. An LPS conservatorship is initiated by the State for the care of an individual with a serious mental health condition for which special care is required. These are individuals who, due to the nature of their disabling condition, are resistant to treatment and who generally require a lock-down facility.

Limited conservatorships are called this because they offer the court the ability to narrowly tailor the conservatorship to match the needs of the individual. The goal is to allow the disabled individual to maintain as much control of their lives as they are able. There are six areas in which decision making can be granted to the conservator:

  • Decide where the limited conservatee will live (NOT in a locked facility).
  • Look at the limited conservatee’s confidential records and papers.
  • Sign a contract for the limited conservatee.
  • Give or withhold consent for most medical treatment for the limited conservatee (NOT sterilization and certain other procedures).
  • Make decisions about the limited conservatee’s education and vocational training.
  • Give or withhold consent to the limited conservatee’s marriage or domestic partnership.
  • Control the limited conservatee’s social and sexual contacts and relationships.
  • Manage the limited conservatee’s financial affairs (for a limited conservator of the estate).

In understanding limited conservatorships in California, one should note that there are two different types, limited conservatorship of the person and limited conservatorship of the estate. In the former, the conservator cares for the disabled person’s daily needs and protects her. In the latter, the conservator manages the financial affairs of the disabled person, doing things such as paying bills and collecting the income of the disabled person. Generally, if the individual’s sole income is through public assistance, no conservatorship of the estate is necessary.

The decision to obtain a limited conservatorship is an important one. In general, when one obtains becomes a conservator, she takes over the decision-making power for another adult. Because the freedom to make choices concerning one’s own life is a basic civil liberty, this power can only be taken from one individual and granted to another by the courts.

When is a limited conservatorship necessary? In general, courts prefer alternatives to conservatorship where possible. Because of the deprivation of civil rights entailed, the courts encourage people to seek out alternatives. Such things as educational powers of attorney, court authorized medical treatment, informal personal care arrangements can sometimes stand in place of a conservatorship of the person. Rather than obtain a conservatorship of the estate, such things as living trusts, joint title to bank accounts, and substitute payees of public benefits are acceptable alternatives.

There are certainly good reasons to establish a conservatorship of the person if the individual is severely disabled. Following are some instance where a conservatorship would be a necessary or positive asset:

  • The disabled is much younger emotionally and socially  than adult age and needs protection.
  • A medical institution requires a limited conservatorship before they will perform an operation on the disabled adult.
  • Due to a lack of impulse control, the disabled person signs contracts for cells phones and other such items but lacks the ability to understand the consequences of their actions.
  • Parents want to decide where or who with  their adult child can live.
  • Frequently, schools will will not consult with the parents of disabled adults but their continued advocacy is required.

While it is possible to obtain a limited conservatorship on one’s own, it is usually advisable to obtain an attorney. There are numerous complicated forms to complete, mistakes can delay the process, and in some instances a limited conservatorship can be contested by either the public defender or the regional center.

If you are currently considering obtaining a limited conservatorship, please contact The Law Office of Gregory R. Branch for assistance. I may be reached at 714-856-1166 or at