Gary B. v. Whitmer, No. 18-1855 (6th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Students at several of Detroit’s worst-performing public schools were subject to poor conditions within their classrooms, missing or unqualified teachers, physically dangerous facilities, and inadequate books and materials. In 2016, the plaintiffs filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming that these conditions deprive them of a basic minimum education that provides a chance at foundational literacy, in violation of the due process and equal protection clauses. They sought recognition of a fundamental right to a basic education. They argued that the schools they are forced to attend are schools in name only, so the state cannot justify the restriction on their liberty imposed by compulsory attendance. They sued state officials, rather than local entities, based on the state’s general supervision of all public education and the state’s specific interventions in Detroit’s public schools. The state argued that it recently returned control to local officials. The district court found that the state defendants were the proper parties to sue but dismissed the complaint on the merits.
The Sixth Circuit reversed in part. Though the plaintiffs failed to adequately plead their equal protection and compulsory attendance claims, the court reinstated claims that they have been denied a basic minimum education, and have been deprived of access to literacy. Application of the principles in the Supreme Court’s education cases to a substantive due process framework demonstrates that a basic minimum education should be recognized as a fundamental right.
The court issued a subsequent related opinion or order on May 19, 2020.