COMPTON - As temperatures in Southern California plunged earlier this month, a lack of heat and broken windows forced students and teachers at Compton High School to bundle up. Some teachers held classes outside to escape the chill. Many at the school say the problems have been going on for years.
Today a mother of two Compton High School students filed an official complaint about the cold conditions in her son's classroom. Under the terms of the 2004 settlement of Williams vs. California, school officials must address complaints from parents, students, and teachers about facilities conditions that threaten the health or safety of students or staff.
The case was filed in 2000 by the ACLU of Southern California, the law firm of Morrison & Foerster, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Public Advocates, Inc. and other groups on behalf of students who attended substandard California schools.
"I speak for my child and for other parents when I say our children deserve decent schools," said Compton High School parent Lourdes Rocha, whose son, Frank, is in 10th grade. She also has a daughter in 9th grade at the school. "If the average person walked into a Compton classroom, he would be shocked by the building conditions."
The Williams vs. California settlement gives Compton Unified School District officials 30 working days to respond to Rocha's complaint. As one of Compton's 33 low-performing schools, the high school is eligible for emergency repair funding under the settlement.
"How do low-performing schools attract good teachers and convince students to come to school when they can't keep them warm?" asked ACLU/SC Racial Justice Organizer Teresa VirgenTorres. "Students' learning suffers when the building is falling apart around them."
Compton Unified School District has failed to submit any of the 33 school-facilities assessments required under the settlement and due in January 2006, despite receiving $335,410 two years ago for that purpose. County and State officials have repeatedly called the district to task for failing to complete the assessments.
More than 2,000 completed assessments from 375 other districts are posted online, providing comprehensive lists of necessary repairs and other information to help school districts address facilities issues before breakdowns occur and students are left shivering in their classrooms.
Other school districts have used the assessments to guide their spending on school repairs and to apply for funds from the $800-million Emergency Repair Program. Compton accounts for 83% of uncompleted assessments statewide.
"A completed facilities needs assessment would likely have identified any necessary heating system repairs, and unused needs assessment grant funds could then have helped pay for them," explained ACLU/SC attorney Brooks Allen, who oversees the implementation of the Williams settlement.
Website: Statewide needs assessments are available online at http://www.applications.opsc.dgs.ca.gov/fnareporting/fnareporting.asp