Judge Declines to Release Girl, 15, Held for Skipping Online Schoolwork – The New York Times - Freelance Rack

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Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Judge Declines to Release Girl, 15, Held for Skipping Online Schoolwork – The New York Times

A judge on Monday denied a motion to release a Michigan teenager who has been held at a juvenile detention facility since May for not completing her online coursework, the latest development in a case that has raised a national outcry.

Judge Mary Ellen Brennan of the Oakland County Circuit Court ruled that the teenager, who violated the terms of her probation by skipping coursework when her school switched to remote learning because of the coronavirus pandemic, should remain at the juvenile facility. The judge said the decision was intended for the girl’s own good.

“I think you are exactly where you are supposed to be,” Judge Brennan told the 15-year-old defendant, who is Black. “You are blooming there, but there is more work to be done.”

She said the police had been called three times over confrontations between the girl and her mother. “She was not detained because she didn’t turn her homework in,” Judge Brennan said. “She was detained because she was a threat to her mother.”

The teenager was not placed in detention or incarcerated after any of those previous encounters, according to her lawyer.

The case, which was reported by ProPublica last week, has drawn nationwide condemnation.

Protesters gathered outside the courthouse on Thursday and chanted, “Black lives, they matter here!” A caravan of more than 200 cars had driven from the teenager’s high school to the courthouse, according to Michigan Liberation, a nonprofit group that organized the rally.

The hearing took place at the request of the girl’s lawyers, who had filed a motion for her early release.

Saima Khalil, one of her lawyers, said the experience had been traumatizing for the girl and her mother. “She wants to go home,” Ms. Khalil said. “She wants to be with her mom. She’s overwhelmed and upset.”

Ms. Khalil said the courts were wrong to incarcerate people who have mental health issues. She said her client had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and received special education services, which made it difficult for her to shift to online education.

The girl had been on probation after she pulled her mother’s hair and bit her finger in November, the judge said. The police referred the case to the Oakland County court, and an assault charge was filed against the girl. A few weeks later, she was charged with larceny after she was caught on surveillance video stealing a cellphone from a fellow student at Birmingham Groves High School in Beverly Hills, northwest of Detroit, according to ProPublica.

“I’m getting behind in my actual schooling while here,” she said, according to a video recording of the proceedings. “My mom wanted for me to get help anywhere — get help anywhere else but the judicial system, and I am not doing well emotionally.”

The girl’s mother said detention had kept her daughter from receiving the support she needs. “This situation is an emotional challenge, but is also a window into the brokenness that demands and deserves attention and repair as to prevent other children and families from being negatively impacted by a system that is supposed to offer protection and support,” she said in a statement.

The prosecutor in the case did not respond to a request for comment.

John Nevin, spokesman for the Michigan Supreme Court, said the court was working with the Oakland County Circuit Court to review the judge’s processes. “The review was prompted by the level of outcry and concern over the case,” he said.

Rai LaNier, Wayne County director at Michigan Liberation, said that in affluent Oakland County, there were resources for children who have learning disabilities and need additional help but that those resources were largely not going to Black children.

“A lot of Black children get their introduction to the criminal legal system through school, through detention, through the police getting involved because they have no other place to go,” she said. She said parents were starting to ask themselves, “How do I make sure my children get the support they need so that it doesn’t end in my child starting to have a criminal record?”

Jason Smith, policy director at the Michigan Youth Justice Center, said that the judge’s decision on Monday was wrong and that the teenager could continue any treatment she was receiving at the detention facility, Oakland County Children’s Village, at home.

“The judge called her a threat to the community because she did not do her schoolwork,” Mr. Smith said. “It’s extremely disappointing.”

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