Michigan judge denies release of teen girl jailed for skipping online homework

Judge Mary Ellen Brennan contends that the girl is also a 'threat' to her mother, thus will not be pressured to change her mind regarding her ruling

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Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Mary Ellen Brennan denied the release of the 15-year-old girl who was jailed for failing to complete her online schoolwork. 

The girl was on probation for assault and theft charges related to a November charge of assaulting her mother. 

READ MORE: Teen sent to juvenile detention center for not doing online schoolwork

According to The Detroit News, the girl who is being called “Grace” to protect her identity was able to speak to the court before Brennan made her decision. 

“I miss my mom,” she said, “I can control myself. I can be obedient.” 

Brennan told Grace that keeping her detained in Children’s Village juvenile center was for her own good. “This morning, for you, unfortunately, is going to get worse before it gets better.” 

“Give yourself a chance to follow through and finish something,” Brennan told Grace. “The right thing is for you and your mom to be separated for right now.”

There have been ongoing protests in Michigan calling for Grace’s release. Advocates held signs outside of the court with the hashtag, #FreeGrace. 

(photo by Fotolia)

“She is 15 years old.” An activist, Cherisie Evans said, “I don’t understand how a 15-year-old with a problem can be locked up. Where is the counseling? Where are the resources?”

Grace’s story went mainstream after she was profiled by ProPublica.

In the lengthy article, it is detailed that Grace, who has ADHD, was jailed after she failed to complete her online schoolwork which was a condition of her probation. The young Black girl attended a majority white school and was not provided additional resources when the school went completely virtual amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

“This family needs help,” Brennan said in court, “What (they) have been doing since 2016 has not worked.” She said, “I can’t see why I would sabotage her by changing that.” 

The judge also made sure that everyone was clear on why she was being disciplined, and it was not just because she missed a few school assignments.

“She was not detained because she didn’t turn her homework in,” Brennan explained. “She was detained because she was a threat to her mother.”

Grace, according to the judge, has fought her mother three times. In at least one altercation, it is alleged that she not only bit her mother’s hand, but pulled her hair.

READ MORE: Teen sentenced to life in prison for killing Black trans woman, 2 gay men

Ironically, according to ProPublica, Grace’s mother wants her daughter home. In addition to her mom wanting her home, many educators and social workers have come to her defense.

“Who can even be a good student right now?” said Ricky Watson Jr., executive director of the National Juvenile Justice Network. “Unless there is an urgent need, I don’t understand why you would be sending a kid to any facility right now and taking them away from their families with all that we are dealing with right now.”

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Students complete homework. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Noting her ADHD diagnosis, Grace, like many other students, has had problems with the shift in her learning environment prompted by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Struggling to adjust to online learning, is not only abnormal for children with IEPs, but for most students.

Journalist Jodi S. Cohen shares, “School districts have documented tens of thousands of students who failed to log in or complete their schoolwork: 15,000 high school students in Los Angeles, one-third of the students in Minneapolis Public Schools and about a quarter of Chicago Public Schools students.”

READ MORE: Poll: Support for Black Lives Matter grows among white youth

Despite national criticism about the decision which activists contend illustrates the racial disparities that exist in the juvenile court system, Brennan would not change her decision.

“My role is to make decisions that are in this young lady’s best interest, period.” She said, “I took an oath that I would not be swayed by public clamor or fear of criticism.” 

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