Fifteen-year-old Grace was removed from the Beverly Hills, Michigan, home she shared with her mom and is now at the Children’s Village juvenile detention center, because she failed to submit her online schoolwork when her classes switched to remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As reported by ProPublica, Judge Mary Ellen Brennan found Grace “guilty on failure to submit to any schoolwork and getting up for school” and is a “threat to (the) community.”
The teen was put on “intensive probation” back in April following a hearing that stemmed from an incident where she attacked her mom.
Grace’s mother said she had not been in any trouble since then, but in the eyes of the judge, she violated her probation. The terms of the probation included a GPS tracking monitor, regular check-ins with a court caseworker, counseling, no phone and no computer unless being used for educational purposes, and completing schoolwork.
Grace, who has ADHD and takes special education courses, said she struggled to adjust and keep up with virtual assignments after her school switched to remote learning in April, but she “just needed time to adjust to the schedule that my mom had prepared for me.”
ProPublica reported that at school, Grace’s Individualized Education Plan required teachers to check in to make sure she was doing her work and to answer any questionings she might have, and it gave her extra time to complete and submit assignments. That personalized support ended when classrooms transitioned to virtual learning, her mother said.
Judge Brennan, unfortunately, wasn’t convinced and sentenced Grace to the detention center.
“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,” ProPublica reported Brennan saying during Grace’s sentencing. Because of her past troubles, the judge also also called Grace a “threat to the community.”
It’s no secret that when schools closed nationwide back in March due to COVID-19, some students fell behind during virtual learning. TIME reported that, according to a Pew Research Center analysis, about 15% of U.S. households with school-age children lack high-speed Internet access.
“It is clear that kids of color are disproportionately involved and impacted by the system across the board,” Jason Smith of Michigan Center for Youth Justice, a nonprofit organization that aims to reduce the number of juvenile incarcerations, told ProPublica. “They are more likely to be arrested, less likely to be offered any kind of diversion, more likely to be removed out of the home and placed in some sort of confinement situation.”
According to ProPublica, due to the confidentiality of juvenile court cases, there’s no way to know for sure how unusual Grace’s situation is. Attorneys and advocates say they are unaware of any other case where a child was sent to a detention center for not completing assignments when schools closed due to COVID-19.
Grace has to stay at the detention center until September 8, when the parties will meet again for a hearing to review the case.
However, TIME reported that County Executive David Coulter asked the court to review Grace’s case again, following growing outrage and calls demanding Judge Brennan be fired.