Hundreds of people gathered in front of a Michigan courthouse to demand that a Black teenager who was sent to juvenile detention for not completing her online schoolwork be freed.
The high school sophomore, referred to only as Grace in reports, was put in the Oakland County, Michigan, facility in May after her caseworker learned she’d gone to sleep, instead of doing her schoolwork, following the teen’s check-in by phone, according to ProPublica’s report. After discovering what had happened, the caseworker filed a violation of probation.
Grace has been in juvenile detention since May when a judge ruled she violated her probation by not completing her online schoolwork.
In April, Grace was placed on probation and part of the requirements of that probation was doing her homework as schools went online. Her mother told ProPublica how big of a challenge this was as her daughter had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and had already been struggling with behavioral issues.
“Who can even be a good student right now?” Ricky Watson Jr., executive director of the National Juvenile Justice Network, told ProPublica. “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 had been on probation after she bit her mom’s finger during a dispute last November and after being charged with larceny when she was allegedly caught on a surveillance camera stealing a student’s cellphone from a backpack on the school campus.
Judge Mary Ellen Brennan, the presiding judge of the Oakland County Family Court Division, called Grace a “threat to [the] community” when she sentenced her to juvenile detention on May 14, according to ProPublica.
“She hasn’t fulfilled the expectation with regard to school performance,” Brennan said during the sentencing. “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.”
Michigan congressman Andy Levin was one of those who condemned the girl’s sentencing.
“Unfortunately, this case is reflective of the harsh penalties children of color face throughout Michigan and the United States when dealing with the criminal justice system,” Levin said.
“In our state, Black children are incarcerated at four times the rate of white children. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is tragic to see the criminal justice system follow Black youth into their homes.”
Prudence Canter, 18, a graduating senior at the school, told Reuters it is clear that Grace has been treated disproportionally.
“A lot of people were behind on their work this semester, no one had motivation to do anything because the teachers weren’t teaching and we were all online. I know so many people that didn’t do their homework,” she said.
In a statement, Oakland County Executive David Coulter said he has spoken with Judge Brennan and called for a review of the case.
“While there are many more details that she is unable to share with me and the public to protect privacy of the minor and their family, I believe a review of this case within her court or during an appellate process is required,” Coulter said.
Grace is not due to appear in court to have her case reviewed until September 8.