Oakland County teen incarcerated for not doing school work ordered to be released from juvenile custody

A 15-year-old girl who was ordered to be held in custody for violating her probation for not completing her schoolwork during the COVID-19 pandemic has been ordered to be released.

The emergency motion for immediate release was granted by the Michigan Court of Appeals with the condition that the girl adheres to the terms of her probation previously issued in April.

Grace (her middle name) was ordered to be held in juvenile detention after she failed to complete her schoolwork, in violation of her probation.

ProPublica reporter Jode Cohen, who broke the story of the 15-year-old from Beverly Hills, reported first that the girl known as 'Grace' has been ordered to be released to the custody of her mother.

FOX 2 spoke with Grace's attorney Friday evening. 

"She's obviously overcome with emotion. We're very thankful," he said. "She's going to be able to sleep at home tonight for the first time since early May."

ProPublica reports she has a learning disability and struggled when Groves switched to remote learning. She previously was put on probation on charges of domestic violence and theft, with conditions that included she attend school and complete her homework. That was in April, by which time all schools were closed due to COVID-19 and remote learning was in place.

The court hearing was held on April 24 and, a few days later, Grace, who has ADHD and receives support services, contacted her caseworker, Rachel Giroux, and she felt overwhelmed and had overslept while feeling anxious about the probation requirements, ProPublica reported. Her mom also said she was anxious and both were working on a schedule to get Grace on task.

“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,” according to case progress notes that ProPublica obtained. “Child needs time to adjust to this new normal of being on probation and doing work from home.”

Five days later, Giroux learned Grace had fallen back to sleep after her morning check-in and filed a violation of probation against her. Grace said she was trying to do what she was asked to do and had checked in, followed every law, and complied with the other requirements of her probation. 

Giroux moved forward with the violation of probation before contacting her teacher to see how Grace was progressing. Three days after filing the violation, ProPublica reports she asked the teacher: "Is there a certain percentage of a class she is supposed to be completing a day/week?”

According to ProPublica, her teacher, Katherine Tarpeh, told Giroux that Grace was "not out of alignment with most of my other students.” She added that Grace was "trying to get to the other side of a steep learning curve mountain and we have a plan for her to get there.”

On May 14, when the Oakland County courthouse was hearing only 'essential emergency matters', ProPublica reports it heard Grace's case in person in the courthouse and was the only one that day.

The prosecution called Giroux who acknowledged she did not know what type of educational disabilities Grace had and did not answer a question about what accommodations she would need. Her assessment that Grace hadn’t done her schoolwork was based on a comment her mother made to her teacher, which Charisse testified she said in a moment of frustration and was untrue, ProPublica reported.

Tarpeh could have provided more information about Grace's needs and was going to testify but had to leave the hearing to teach a class.

Grace and her mom both said that the transition had been difficult but she was getting better at it. She said she just needed time to adjust - but Judge Mary Allen Brennan said that wasn't enough.

“She hasn’t fulfilled the expectation with regard to school performance,” Brennan said as she sentenced Grace. “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.”

She was sent to juvenile detention and led out of the room in handcuffs and was ordered held at Children's Village in Oakland County.

The family's attorney say Grace's case is just one example of a flawed juvenile system.

"Hopefully we can get some things done going forward in terms of changing the way that we treat juvenile offenders."