Cory Turner

In a landmark decision, a federal appeals court has ruled that children have a constitutional right to literacy, dealing a remarkable victory to students.

The ruling comes in response to a lawsuit brought by students of five Detroit schools, claiming that because of deteriorating buildings, teacher shortages and inadequate textbooks, the state of Michigan failed to provide them with the most fundamental of skills: the ability to read.

The high school senior sitting across from Franciene Sabens was in tears over the abrupt amputation of her social life and turmoil at home. Because of the coronavirus, there will be no prom, no traditional send-off or ceremony for the graduates of Carbondale Community High School in Carbondale, Ill. And Sabens, one of the school's counselors, could not give the girl the one thing Sabens' gut told her the teen needed most.

"I want to hug them all, but I really wanted to hug that one," Sabens remembers.

They thought they'd have more time, teachers say. Many couldn't even say goodbye.

"Everything happened so quickly," remembers Hannah Klumpe, who teaches seventh grade social studies in Greenville, S.C. "Friday I was at school, talking to my students, and they're like, 'Do you think they're going to close school?' And I was like, 'Oh, not right now!'"

That weekend, South Carolina's governor announced the state's schools would close immediately, including Klumpe's Berea Middle School, and she hasn't seen her students in-person since. Her story is not uncommon.

Nearly 30 million children in the U.S. count on schools for free or low-cost breakfast, lunch, snacks and sometimes dinner — but most of those children are now at home. At least 114,000 public and private schools have been closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus, affecting the vast majority of the nation's K-12 students, according to an ongoing tally by Education Week.

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