A class-action lawsuit filed against the state of California Thursday alleges that low-income students are deprived of an equal education because they are denied academic instruction time — yet assigned to excessive hours of “service” that include tasks like tidying up classrooms.
In addition to being assigned menial tasks at school, some pupils — even those below grade level in reading or other subjects — are simply sent home during free time “even though they are supposed to receiving a full day of education,” the suit filed in Alameda County Superior Court argues.
The 18 plaintiffs in the suit are Latino and black students at seven of the state’s most disadvantaged and underfunded schools, whose students are almost all ethnic minorities. The schools are located in Los Angeles County and the San Francisco Bay Area. The suit demands that the state of California — a defendant in the suit — monitor practices at the schools and intervene to make improvements.
“I think a lot of parents would be aghast if these were the conditions in their children’s schools,” said Kathryn Eidmann, Los Angeles-based staff attorney at Public Counsel, the nation’s largest pro bono law firm. Public Counsel is representing the plaintiffs, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and other legal groups. Certain practices “slowly rob” students of real instructional time, lawyers said.
At-school “work” periods assigned to students are “classes in name only,” Eidmann said. “It’s being done to fill a hole.” Many teachers at the schools face tough challenges, Eidmann said, and staff turnover during the year and the use of multiple substitute teachers are common.
State officials said they had not yet had time to review the litigation, but also cited fresh efforts to improve the situation for low-income students.
The suit comes just as California lawmakers launch an initiative they hope will boost lagging graduation and academic proficiency among Latino and black students, in particular. Students registering lower rates of graduation and achievement are concentrated in schools stripped bare by years of state budget cuts and unequal local financial support.
The Golden State — long seen as a bellwether for national trends — is preparing to send millions of new state dollars to districts so they can use the funds, based on local jurisdictions’ own plan, to upgrade education for disadvantaged children.
The lawsuit filed Thursday alleges that at Fremont High School in Oakland, approximately one-third of seniors are assigned to so-called “Inside Work Experience” periods “instead of being placed in meaningful core or enrichment classes.” Students sort mail, run errands and perform other tasks. Juniors in the school of some 800 students are also assigned such work periods as well, the suit says.