Black Special Needs Student Sent To Juvenile Detention For Not Completing Schoolwork Amid Global Pandemic

Written by @kristenshylin_

Life with COVID-19 has affected everyone in the world in many ways: financially, physically, mentally, and emotionally. But what if I told you that it could affect your freedom? No, not your freedom to wear a mask or dine in at a restaurant, but your freedom to not be legally detained.

On May 14, Michigan Judge Mary Ellen Brennan sentenced a Black student, who is referred to as ‘Grace’ in a ProPublica article, to juvenile detention for violation of parole.

Brennan ruled Grace “guilty on failure to submit to any school work and getting up for school,” labeling the minor a “threat to the community.”

The 15-year-old student, who has ADHD, is currently at the Children’s Village detention center in Detroit, waiting for her next court date ‪on September 8.‬

According to Daily Mail, the teen endured a strung-out legal battle in court after being charged with assault and theft last year.

In November, authorities responded to a call that reported Grace’s mother, in which the article referred to as “Charisse,” crying for help against her daughter, who was upset that she could not go to her friend’s house.

According to the police report, Grace bit her mother and pulled her hair while attempting to take her mother’s cell phone. Charges were immediately filed against the minor after the incident.

Weeks later, Grace received theft charges when school cameras caught her stealing a class mate’s cellphone.

Grace said she instantly regretted her actions after she got caught.

”I wanted to take back everything I had done,” she told police.

Months after the two disputes, Grace managed to stay out of trouble. Grace and her mother even engaged in therapy to work on their relationship.

In April, Grace attended a virtual court hearing for her two previous charges. During the meeting, Grace pleaded with the prosecutor to avoid placement in a treatment facility.

”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,” Grace said as tears fell down her face.

Given the ongoing pandemic, Judge Brennan allowed Grace one more opportunity to improve her behavior. Instead of detaining the teen in a facility, she sentenced Grace to “intensive probation.” Completing coursework was a requirement of the probation terms.

”I hope she upholds her end of the bargain,” Brennan said as she concluded the hearing.

Grace had every intention to comply with the judge’s order, but she encountered some challenges due to the transition of remote learning.

As a special needs student, Grace relied heavily on face-to-face learning. Months into the transition, she struggled to adjust to her new learning environment.

The teenager who struggles with ADHD and a mood disorder reached out to her caseworker Rachel Giroux to share her school concerns.

Charisse also confided in Giroux, telling her that Grace repeatedly stayed up late at night and missed class.

Although the worker reassured the mother that the “child needs time to adjust to this new normal of being on probation and doing work from home,” she filed a violation of probation against Grace five days later.

Without consulting with the student’s teacher to confirm her academic status, Giroux told the prosecutor that Grace “clearly doesn’t want to abide by the rules in the community.”

Three days after asking the judge to detain Grace, Giroux finally reached out to Grace’s teacher who told her that Grace “has a strong desire to do well” and “is trying to get to the other side of a steep learning curve mountain and we have a plan for her to get there.”

On May 14, Grace attended a hearing regarding her violation of parole at the Oakland County courthouse, where she was sentenced and escorted to detention in handcuffs.

In her first letter to her mom while in the facility, Grace wrote, “I want to change. I want to be a better person. Here I’ve realized how much you care and love me. I’m sorry I took that for granted.”


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