The Michigan Court of Appeals has released a 15-year-old girl from a juvenile facility where she was sent after failing to complete her homework.
The teen, who has been referred to as ‘Grace’ in various media reports, was sent to the Children’s Village detention center in Detroit on May 14 after judge Mary Ellen Brennan declared that the youngster’s failure to complete the school work had violated the terms of her parole.
The decision sparked outrage and a subsequent protest, but Judge Brennan defended her decision during a hearing late last month.
‘My role is to make decisions that are in this young lady’s best interest, period. I took an oath that I would not be swayed by public clamor or fear of criticism,’ she stated inside Oakland County Circuit Court.
She claimed Grace was placed in the juvenile facility because she was a threat to her mother and that police had been called out three times for confrontations between the pair.
However, on Friday, the Court of Appeals issued an emergency order for Grace’s immediate release, whereupon she was reunited with her mom, who goes by the pseudonym of ‘Charisse’.
A spokesperson for Charisse told The Associated Press Friday that she ‘is enjoying having her daughter being home, and will determine her and Grace’s interest in speaking publicly next week.’
The story began last year after Grace was charged with stealing another student’s cellphone and assaulting Charisse during a row.
In an interview published last month with ProPublica, Charisse explained that Grace suffers from ADHD, and that the pair had begun family therapy after the assault.
During sentencing in April, Grace tearfully begged Judge Brennan not to send her to a juvenile detention facility.
‘My mom and I do get into a lot of arguments, but with each one I learn something and try to analyze why it happened,’ the teen sobbed.
‘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.’
Judge Brennan instead sentenced her to strict probation that included the completion of all schoolwork.
However, with schools ordered closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Grace’s routine was upended, and her caseworker, Rachel Giroux, soon became concerned that classwork was not being done.
In an email penned to Giroux, Grace’s teacher wrote: ‘Let me be clear that this is no one’s fault because we did not see this unprecedented global pandemic coming.
‘Grave 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’.
However, Grace failed to complete all schoolwork in the subsequent weeks, prompting Grioux to file a violation of probation.
‘She clearly doesn’t want to abide by the rules in the community,’ Giroux wrote.
On May 14, Judge Brennan ordered Grace to Children’s Village. She claimed the sentence was not intended to be a punishment, but would rather be an opportunity for the teen to get treatment and services.
However, Grace was escorted out of the courtroom in handcuffs and ankle shackles.
Charisse said watching her daughter being taken away was particularly traumatic given that they are both black.
‘For us and our culture, that for me was the knife stuck in my stomach and turning,’ Charisse told ProPublica.
‘That is our history, being shackled. And she didn’t deserve that.’
Charisse shared a heartbreaking letter handwritten by Grace inside the detention center.
‘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. Please continue to send me pictures of me and you or just with anyone. I love you mommy and I miss you,’ the letter reads.
The ProPublica story sparked outrage and led to a protest outside Oakland County Circuit Court last month, with demonstrators demanding law enforcement re-examine how black children are treated in the criminal justice system.
‘People need to learn how to work with our kids,’ said one black protester.
‘There needs to be equitable treatment of all kids, and we need to realize there isn’t.’
Vivian Anderson, founder of EveryBlackGirl Inc., also attended the protest and claimed that black children are being criminalized for ‘behavior that’s accepted in other communities’.
A protest was also held at Groves High School, where Grace was a student.
Grace’s classmates who attended the rally told Reuters that her academic performance was not unique as the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.
‘A lot of people were behind on their work this semester, no one had motivation to do anything because the teachers were’t teaching and we were all online. I know so many people that didn’t do their homework,’ said Prudence Canter, 18, a graduating senior at the school.
‘It didn’t seem like the judge or the caseworker knew how grades and due dates and things were structured during the pandemic shutdown in the spring,’ Geoff Wickersham, a social studies teacher at Grove, told Reuters at the protest.