Student Jailed For Schoolwork Is Off Probation

A Michigan teenager, identified only as “Grace,” is off probation following a harrowing experience in the court system that drew national attention. Grace, a 15-year-old Black girl, was put in juvenile detention after falling behind on her coursework.

Judge Mary Ellen Brennan, the same family court judge who sentenced Grace to Children’s Village detention center on May 14 for failing to turn in homework assignments on time (deemed a violation of Grace’s probation for previous behavioral issues), accepted a caseworker’s recommendation that Grace be released from probation and that her case be closed.

The hearing followed a July 31 ruling by the Michigan Court of Appeals that ordered Grace’s release from Children’s Village, according to the Detroit Free Press.

“Going forward, the court is hopeful that [Grace] has the tools and does make different choices in her home and at school,” Brennan said. She said court involvement is “appropriately terminated,” and added, “I wish this family well.”

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Grace’s story went viral last month after a ProPublica article was published about her case. Grace, who has ADHD, said she felt unmotivated and overwhelmed when online learning began April 15, about a month after schools closed due to coronavirus. Without much live instruction or structure, she was easily distracted and had difficulty keeping herself on track, she said.

Due to ADHD, Grace was under an Individualized Education Plan, which required teachers to periodically check in to make sure she was on task. The program also allowed her extra time to complete assignments and tests. When remote learning began, she no longer had the support system, her mother said.

Grace was on probation for assault and larceny, stemming from a fight with her mother and stealing a classmate’s cell phone, when her case worker was told by Grace’s mother that she was falling behind on her schoolwork. The case worker then made a recommendation to the Judge Brennan to issue a harsh punishment.

During a court hearing in May, Judge Brennan called Grace a “threat to (the) community,” citing the minor assault and theft charges that led to her probation. Grace was sentenced to juvenile detention and taken out of the courtroom in handcuffs.

Grace appeared before Judge Brennan again in mid-July to try and appeal the harsh sentence, but the judge denied her request for release.

Grace’s next hearing was scheduled for September 8, but Brennan set Tuesday’s “accelerated review hearing” after the Michigan Court of Appeals decision on July 31 to release Grace. Still, Judge Brennan refused to admit Grace’s punishment was undeserved.

“The Court of Appeals order interrupted that treatment plan and damage to that plan has been done that cannot be repaired by this court,” the judge said before ending Grace’s probation.

Eddie Herron, Grace’s new caseworker who is overseeing her probation, said he has spoken with the family regularly since the girl’s release. In a four-page report to the court, he stated that she “has been doing very well,” following all rules and taking part in therapy.  

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