Laila Crawley, 15, of Farmington Hills, joined protests  July 16 to support a Groves High School student held in juvenile detention for not completing her school work during the  pandemic.

Laila Crawley, 15, of Farmington Hills, joined protests July 16 to support a Groves High School student held in juvenile detention for not completing her school work during the pandemic.

Photo by Deb Jacques


The fervor for #FreeGrace

Community reacts to student locked up after not turning in school work

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published July 20, 2020

 Rai Lanier Wayne, of Detroit, painted  her car before the caravan began to the Oakland County  Circuit Court last week.

Rai Lanier Wayne, of Detroit, painted her car before the caravan began to the Oakland County Circuit Court last week.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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BIRMINGHAM/OAKLAND COUNTY — Most of America only knows her as “Grace,” her middle name.

But thousands rushed to her defense online, and last week, a caravan was organized to protest the Oakland County Circuit Court’s decision to place the 15-year-old girl in juvenile detention.

The crime?

Not doing her online school work during the COVID-19 shutdown, which reportedly was a violation of her probation.

That’s according to an article published by ProPublica Illinois, a nonprofit news website, that collaborated with the Detroit Free Press. It detailed how Grace, a Black Birmingham Public Schools student with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, was found to have violated her probation order in May for an existing larceny charge by not completing her online schoolwork during the pandemic.

Grace reportedly has an Individualized Education Plan with her teachers at Groves High School and was allowed extra time to complete assignments.

The article gained attention not only from appalled readers, but also from local leaders in government and education. According to the article, the probation violation charges for not complying with schoolwork were brought by a family caseworker for the court, not Birmingham Public Schools.

“Birmingham Public Schools stands by its commitment that no child within our district should face consequences for lack of participation, incomplete assignments or missed work due to the sudden and required online continuity of learning plans that took place this past school year due to the global pandemic of COVID-19. From its inception, the BPS plan sought to hold students harmless given the challenging, virtual learning environment they were thrust in due to no fault of their own. The district maintains that belief today,” the district said as part of a prepared statement.

The statement said that BPS was not a party to the probation violation charges for not complying with schoolwork or the court proceeding, but due to the U.S. Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the district isn’t at liberty to discuss any details about the case or the student’s academic or personal record.

That was followed fast with a resolution July 16 from the Birmingham Public Schools Board of Education calling for a review of the teen’s case. Oakland Schools also released a statement last week in support of the student.

“Oakland Schools shares the community’s deep concern and outrage over the recent action taken against a Birmingham Schools’ student by the court system,” said Oakland Schools Superintendent Wanda Cook-Robinson. “We firmly believe that no student should be punished for not completing online school work during this unprecedented pandemic. We stand ready to support Birmingham Public Schools in any way to ensure an equitable academic and social emotional environment as we welcome back all students.”

Bill Mullan, Oakland County’s media and communications officer, said at press time that Grace was still in custody. The court denied applications filed July 17 and July 20 to have Grace released.

Oakland County Executive David Coulter said he had reached out to the Circuit Court for a review of the case, either in court or through an appellate process.

“It has been a top priority of my administration to keep the young people and employees safe at Children’s Village during the pandemic, and that includes limiting residency to immediate safety risks,” Coulter said in a press release.

John Nevin, a spokesman for the Michigan Supreme Court, said in an email the State Court Administrative Office was working with Oakland Circuit Court to examine the processes in the case.

Mari Copeny, otherwise known as Little Miss Flint, who became a young advocate for the city during the Flint water crisis, tweeted about the case and its racial implications.

“It’s time black girls are treated like black girls and not like criminals,” Copeny said in a tweet. “Grace never should have been locked up, let alone still there.”

Neither the office of Judge Mary Ellen Brennan, the judge in Grace’s case, nor Grace’s attorney, Jonathan Biernat, could be reached for comment before press time.

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