A Michigan teen was sent to juvenile detention after she struggled to keep up with her schoolwork during the pandemic.
The 15-year-old African-American girl, identified by ProPublica as Grace, her middle name, was taken into custody in May after Oakland County Judge Mary Ellen Brennan ruled she violated her probation.
“She hasn’t fulfilled the expectation with regard to school performance,” Brennan said during a May 14 hearing. “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.”
Grace was placed on probation after she was charged with larceny and assault for two separate incidents in 2019. Her behavioral problems started when she was 13 years old. Grace began to fight with her mother — also identified by just her middle name, Charisse — and stole an iPad from her middle school. Last November, Charisse called the police after Grace attacked her and tried to take her phone because she was upset that her mother wouldn’t let her visit a friend. A few weeks later, she was charged with larceny after she stole a phone from another student’s locker.
On April 21, Brennan sentenced Grace to “intensive probation,” which required her to regularly check in with a caseworker, go to counseling and do her schoolwork. She was also given a GPS tether and was not allowed to have a phone. Three days after the hearing, Rachel Giroux, Grace’s new caseworker, told the court she was doing well.
The following week, Charisse and Grace, who has been diagnosed with ADHD and a mood disorder, admitted they were overwhelmed by the demands of virtual schooling.
“Worker told mother that child is not going to be perfect and that teenagers aren’t always easy to work with but you have to give them the opportunity to change,” case progress notes stated. “Child needs time to adjust to this new normal of being on probation and doing work from home.”
Days later, Giroux filed a violation of probation against Grace after she fell asleep after one of her daily check-ins. She told the court Grace should be detained because she “clearly doesn’t want to abide by the rules in the community.” A day after the filing, Grace told her special education teacher she was struggling and started daily sessions with a tutor.
During the May 14 hearing, Giroux admitted she did not know anything about Grace’s educational needs and based her assessment on comments Charisse made from frustration. The special education teacher could have testified but had to leave the hearing to teach a class.
Brennan found Grace guilty of “failure to submit to any schoolwork and getting up for school.” The judge also called the sophomore a “threat to community, as original charge was assault and theft.”
Grace is still in the facility to receive services instead of punishment, according to Brennan. A hearing to review her case is scheduled for September 8.
ProPublica’s reporting shows Grace’s case as in many ways emblematic of the racial disparities in the Oakland County juvenile justice system. The outlet reported that from January 2016 through June 2020, 42 percent of the juvenile cases referred to the Oakland County courts involved Blacks in a county where just 15 percent of the county’s youth is Black.
The original reporting on this story was done by ProPublica in conjunction with The Detroit Free Press and Bridge Magazine.