Protests in Michigan after student jailed for not doing online schoolwork

PONTIAC, Michigan (Reuters) - Hundreds of Detroit-area students turned out in protest outside their high school Thursday calling for the release of a classmate who is in juvenile detention after not completing schoolwork during remote learning this past semester.

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The 15-year-old student, called Grace in the original ProPublica report that highlighted her situation, was on probation for fighting with her mother and stealing. ProPublica reported that Grace, who has attention deficit disorder, was easily distracted when studying at home and fell behind during remote learning. A Michigan circuit court judge sent Grace to juvenile detention in May, citing the schoolwork as a probation violation.

On Thursday afternoon, protesters assembled at Groves High School in the suburb of Beverley Hills before they drove to the Oakland County’s Circuit Court and prosecutor’s office holding up signs with calls to “Free Grace.”

Students at the demonstration told Reuters Grace’s academic performance was not unique as the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.

“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,” said Prudence Canter, 18, a graduating senior at the school.

“It didn’t seem like the judge or the caseworker knew how grades and due dates and things were structured during the pandemic shutdown in the spring,” Geoff Wickersham, a social studies teacher at Grove, told Reuters at the protest. “I think this is a huge injustice.”

Speakers asked protesters to raise their hands if they had ever failed to turn in an assignment at some point and every person raised their hands.

The prosecutor’s office declined to comment. Judge Mary Ellen Brennan, who handed down the ruling, was not immediately available for comment.

Oakland County Executive David Coulter posted a statement online Tuesday night, writing that he had spoken to the judge.

“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 wrote.

Congressional Representative Andy Levin wrote online that children should not be locked up for not doing their homework.

“The prosecution’s only witness was unaware of the student’s learning disabilities. Witnesses who could have provided a better understanding of the situation, like the student’s teachers, were unable to testify,” Levin wrote.

(This story corrects third paragraph to reflect protesters drove to the court)

Reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez in Washington and Emily Elconin in Michigan; Editing by Heather Timmons and Aurora Ellis