UPDATE: A judge has now denied calls to release “Grace,” the girl who was arrested for not doing her homework during the quarantine. Check out the update at the end of this article or get the full story here.
How It Began
A teenage girl has been sent to juvenile detention for not doing her homework during the quarantine. ProPublica reports on the case of a Michigan 15-year-old who was found to have violated probation when she failed to finish her online schoolwork. Now, her mother is counting the days until her release, while advocates decry the decision to confine the girl during the COVID-19 crisis.
Issues Outside of Homework
ProPublica referred to the girl and her mother by their middle names, Grace and Charisse, in order to protect their identities. The site reported that Charisse raised Grace on her own, and the two were virtually inseparable in the child’s early years.
However, as Grace got older their relationship hit the usual parent-teen disputes over things like keeping her room clean or using the phone too much. Eventually, arguments between the two became so heated that Charisse, unsure of who to turn to, would call the police for help.
One of these arguments took place on November 6 of last year, when Grace reportedly pulled Charisse’s hair and bit her finger. Weeks later, Grace was in trouble again, this time for briefly stealing a classmate’s cell phone.
These incidents led to a hearing on April 21 of this year, when a judge opted to give Grace “intensive probation” instead of juvenile detention, citing coronavirus concerns. The terms of Grace’s probation were that she would check in regularly with a caseworker, undergo counseling, refrain from tech use outside of homework, and do her schoolwork.
Adjusting to Homework During Quarantine
At first, Grace had little trouble complying, with her caseworker noting that she dutifully checked in as required. However, in the second week Grace, who suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and a mood disorder, began to have issues. Separated from an individualized action plan that called for periodic check-ins from teachers, she began to fall behind. This worried Cherisse, who confided in the caseworker, Rachel Giroux.
“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,” read a passage from Giroux’s notes. “Child needs time to adjust to this new normal of being on probation and doing work from home.”
However, five days later, the caseworker called Charisse and learned that Grace had gone back to sleep after her morning check-in. Giroux filed a violation of probation, telling the prosecutor that Grace “clearly doesn’t want to abide by the rules in the community.”
It wasn’t until three days later that Giroux spoke to Grace’s teacher, Katherine Tarpeh, about her academic performance. In an email exchange, Tarpeh said Grace was “not out of alignment with most of my other students.”
“Let me be clear that this is no one’s fault because we did not see this unprecedented global pandemic coming,” Tarpeh continued. She also wrote that Grace “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 to get there.”
Jailed for Not Doing Homework
In court, Grace said she tried to abide by the terms of her probation, including staying at home and out of trouble. Furthermore, Giroux testified that she had been unaware of Grace’s disabilities.
Both mom and child said that Grace had school permission to complete assignments at her own pace, so long as she finished by the end of the semester. However, her teacher was unable to testify due to teaching a class.
Judge Mary Ellen Brennan was unconvinced, telling Grace her probation was “zero tolerance, for lack of a better term.” She sentenced the teen to juvenile detention, where Grace has remained since May.
The judge’s decision came after Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order suspending juvenile containment unless the young person was a “substantial and immediate risk to others.”
In Judge Brennan’s ruling, she found Grace “guilty on failure to submit to any schoolwork and getting up for school,” continuing that she was a “threat to (the) community” based on her past offenses.
Advocates Rush to Defense
Experts and advocates have condemned the decision, citing both the pandemic and broader childcare concerns.
“It is inconceivable that, given the utterly unprecedented situation, a court would enforce expectations about what student participation in school means that was not tied to the reality of education during the pandemic,” said Kris Keranen, an official for the Michigan Protection & Advocacy Service.
Meanwhile, Kristen Stanley, co-director of the Midwest Juvenile Defender Center, condemned confining Grace at a time when “the state gave clear directives that children, and all people, unless it was a dire emergency, were to be kept out of detention.”
A judge reportedly denied requests by Grace and Charisse to release her in June. Grace is now set to remain at the Children’s Village juvenile facility until September 8 of this year.
UPDATE #1: Article Prompts #FreeGrace Movements
A new attorney representing Grace said he plans to file a motion in court Thursday, July 16 asking the judge who ordered the girl detained to reconsider her decision and send Grace home.
Grace’s case has gained national attention and sparked plans for a car-caravan protest Thursday afternoon. The case has also launched a nation-wide online discussion, spurring the hashtag #FreeGrace and a Change.org petition asking for her release. As of this writing, the petition had more than 98,800 signatures and rapidly counting. The goal is now to reach 150,000. (originally it was 50,000, but supporters quickly passed that number). The petition is also asking the public to Judge Mary Ellen Brennan, email her court clerks, and email the Communication Director for Birmingham Public Schools, Anne Cron.
UPDATE: July 21, 2020
Following last Thursday’s filing, Judge Brennan has denied a motion for Grace to be released from detention. The judge ruled that Grace has benefited from her time in the facility but is not yet ready to go home.
“My role is to make decisions that are in this young lady’s best interest, period,” Brennan said, addressing the public outcry to free Grace. “I took an oath that I would not be swayed by public clamor or fear of criticism.”
The decision to keep her after not doing homework during quarantine drew the ire of Michigan Representative Debbie Dingell.
“If it was a white young person, I really question whether the judge would have done this,” Dingell said to MSNBC. “Putting a young person in a confined area in the midst of COVID isn’t the answer.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: The top image is a stock photo used for illustrative purposes only.