Teen locked up over missed school work; school disagrees with judge

PONTIAC, Mich. — A suburban Detroit school district said no student should be punished for missed online work during the coronavirus pandemic, two days after a news organization reported that a judge placed a teenager in juvenile detention.

ProPublica reported that the 15-year-old girl has been in Oakland County's Children's Village since mid-May for violating probation in a case involving allegations of assault and theft. A judge cited a “failure to submit to any schoolwork and getting up for school.”

Judge Mary Ellen Brennan said the Groves High School student was a threat to the community based on an assault allegation involving her mother, according to a court document.

The Birmingham school district said it's not a party in the case.

From the start of the pandemic, the district “sought to hold students harmless given the challenging, virtual learning environment they were thrust in due to no fault of their own,” spokeswoman Anne Cron said Thursday. “The district maintains that belief today.”

The judge told the girl in May that she was sending her to Children's Village to get treatment and services.

“She hasn’t fulfilled the expectation with regard to school performance,” Brennan said as she sentenced the teen in May, according to ProPublica. “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.”

Brennan declined to comment on the case but her husband defended her. Ed Lennon, an attorney, said his wife was concerned about the safety of the girl's mother during a statewide stay-at-home order related to COVID-19.

The “mother may potentially be subject to more assaults by her daughter” if the two had been allowed to continue living together, Lennon said.

A new attorney for the teen, Jonathan Biernat, said he will ask Brennan to release her. David Coulter, the highest-ranking official in Oakland County, said he spoke to the judge about the case.

“While there are many more details that she is unable to share with me and the public to protect privacy of the minor and their family, I believe a review of this case within her court or during an appellate process is required," Coulter said.

The ProPublica story was also published by the Detroit Free Press and Bridge, another news organization.

Grace was a high school sophomore at Groves High School in Beverly Hills when she was charged with assault and theft last year. She was placed on probation in mid-April and, among other requirements, was to complete her schoolwork. Grace, who has ADHD and receives special education services, struggled with the transition to online learning and fell behind. Finding the girl had violated probation, an Oakland County judge on May 14 sentenced her to detention.