LOS ANGELES - Seven months after the ACLU, other civil rights groups, and the law firm of Morrison & Foerster sued the State of California for failing to provide an equal and adequate education to thousands of children in California, the State today filed a 147 page cross-complaint against 18 school districts. The schoolchildren named in the original complaint attend schools in the 18 districts sued by the State. None of the districts was a defendant in the suit brought by the ACLU on behalf of schoolchildren. The filing of the cross-complaint comes on the heels of the state's announcement that it will be deposing all of the 46 principals of the schools that the plaintiffs attend starting on December 21, 2000 until January 15, 2001.
"The State's decision to sue the districts makes no sense," said ACLU of Southern California Legal Director Mark Rosenbaum, "because the judge has already decided that 'local districts are the state's agents for local operation of the common school system, and the state's ultimate responsibility cannot be delegated to any other public entity.' So the state is really just suing itself."
"The state's action," said Rosenbaum, "illuminates the complete absence of any effective or even rational system of accountability over public education. The state has already admitted that it has no idea whether students throughout California have textbooks or not. Nor does it have even a basic inventory of the schools where unsafe, unsanitary, and unhealthful conditions endanger our children and make it impossible for them to obtain a decent education. It appears that the only means the State has to find out what's going on at the local level is to wait for poor and minority children to bring a lawsuit. And, the only way the state can figure out to make sure that students in local districts receive the bare essentials of an education is to sue them. You could not design a more dysfunctional, 'pass the buck' system of oversight and accountability if you tried."
"By suing the districts," said Rosenbaum, "the State is forcing those districts to make a choice between spending limited funds on books, teachers, and safe facilities on one hand, and paying lawyers on the other. This behavior is consistent with the state's decision to use taxpayer funds to hire O'Melveny & Myers, one of the largest law firms in the country, to represent the state. Neither decision is in the best interest of schoolchildren or taxpayers."
"The state's harassment tactics, such as forcing principals to spend part of their hard-earned Christmas vacation being deposed by the State's own lawyers," said Rosenbaum, "outscrooge Scrooge, undermining Governor Davis' public position that education is his number one, two, and three priorities. It's like a general going to war against his troops. By suing the school districts, the state is not only playing Scrooge for the Christmas season, it is putting districts in an untenable position. By forcing the districts to defend themselves against a complaint brought by the State, the State is forcing the districts to waste money and delaying the improvements for poor and minority students that they so desperately need."