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Michigan teen sent to detention for not completing online coursework makes plea to judge at hearing

The judge ordered Grace to remain in detention
Posted at 7:17 PM, Jul 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-21 10:57:21-04

PONTIAC, Mich. (WXYZ) — An Oakland County, Michigan, judge ruled Monday to keep a high school sophomore in detention after violating probation by failing to complete online school work. The Oakland County Children’s Village TAG program provides several forms of therapy, counseling and educational support, but defense attorneys argue it is not an appropriate legal action.

Judge Mary Ellen Brennan says she had to consider the actions that placed Grace on probation to begin with. Last fall, arguments between the teen and her mother turned violent. The judge says the mother was the victim and the daughter the aggressor.

“How many times does she get to jump her mom before she’s a threat? How many times?” Judge Brennan said.

“That is not the question in front of the court,” Defense Attorney Saima Khalil responded.

“That’s the question I’m asking you. How many times?” said Judge Brennan.

Fifteen-year-old Grace's story has gained national attention. She was placed in juvenile detention in June after violating probation by failing to complete online school assignments in May. The judge says the teen's mother repeatedly called a case worker for help.

During court proceedings Monday, the defense pointed out that a lot of students struggled with virtual classwork, but the judge says Grace's mom was the one who made repeated calls to the case worker saying her daughter refused to get out of bed, wouldn't do her school work and needed help.

Khalil and fellow defense attorney Jon Beirnet went head-to-head with Judge Brennan, who continued to bring up the original violation for Grace, which included physical altercations with her mother last fall.

"The probation violation had nothing to do with a violent act. There is no tampering of a GPS tether," a defense lawyer stated.

That probation violation put the high school sophomore in juvenile detention during a pandemic.

Grace attends Birmingham Groves High School, where she receives support for ADHD. Grace's school closed in March like everything else when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a stay-home order.

When classwork was made available online, Grace's attorney says it wasn't required. There was no academic or classroom consequence. Judge Brennan said Grace's mother had repeatedly called the case worker for help.

Outside the courtroom, demonstrators demanded Grace's release.

"We must dismantle the school to prison pipeline," said Tylene Henry with Michigan Liberation Action Fund.

The action fund is asking for support, not punishment.

In the courtroom, Grace spoke before the judge.

"Each day I try to be a better person than I was the last," the teen said. "And I’ve been doing that since even before I was in this situation. And I’m getting behind in my actual schooling while here. The schooling here is beneath my level of education."

Judge Brennan insisted Grace should continue in the detention program, which offers therapy while her mother takes parenting classes.

"The goal is you and mom safe healthy and happy in the home, we disagree about what that looks like," The judge said. "To get to that goal... you think you’re ready, I think you’re not. I think you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be; you're blooming there."

There was another motion filed by the defense attorneys. They are expecting a written decision at some point. Grace's next court hearing is in September.

This article was written by Jennifer Ann Wilson for WXYZ.