Judge orders release of teenage Black girl jailed after not doing homework

The student's case highlights racial disparity in the justice system, critics say.

Get the latest from TODAY

Sign up for our newsletter
SUBSCRIBE
/ Source: NBC News
By Dennis Romero

A girl placed in a detention center after she failed to complete her homework was ordered released Friday by Michigan's Court of Appeals.

The 15-year-old known only by her middle name, Grace, has been at the center in Oakland County since mid-May after her failure to finish homework triggered a review of her probation by a family court judge.

Students protest in support of a Black Groves High School student who was jailed due to a probation violation of not keeping up with her online schoolwork, in Pontiac, Michigan on July 16, 2020.Emily Elconin / Reuters

The girl, who is Black, was placed on probation after allegations last year of assault against her mother and theft. Her case, first reported by ProPublica, became a cause for those who say Black people are treated unfairly under the justice system.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said on MSNBC July 20, "If it was a white young person, I really challenge whether the judge would have done this."

The judge in the case argued that homework was just the tip of the iceberg.

"She was not detained because she didn't turn her homework in," Oakland County family court Judge Mary Ellen Brennan said, according to ProPublica. "She was detained because I found her to be a threat of harm to her mother based on everything I knew."

On Friday, a three-judge panel granted an emergency request to have Grace released.

"The juvenile respondent is ordered immediately released from detention to the custody of her mother pending appeal or further order of this Court," the appeals panel stated.

Grace attends Groves High School in Beverly Hills, Michigan, where distance learning was in effect because of the pandemic.

Parents and students in the suburban Detroit community have demonstrated in support of Grace's release. Oakland County Executive David Coulter said in a statement recently that the case should be reviewed and that fewer people should be detained during the pandemic.

Dingell on Friday called the appeals court ruling "great news."

"But we can’t forget Grace is just one case in our broken criminal justice system," she tweeted. "Let this case shine a light and raise awareness of the work we still need to do."