Massive teacher layoffs at three Los Angeles Unified School District middle schools have deprived thousands of low-income students and students of color of their legal right to an education consistent with prevailing statewide standards, a team of civil rights attorneys said in a class-action lawsuit filed today.
The lawsuit targets the state and LAUSD for carrying out budget cuts last year that disproportionately affected the three schools, decimating their teaching staffs. While many schools around the state lost zero teachers to the budget crisis, more than half of the teaching staffs at Gompers, Liechty, and Markham middle schools lost their jobs as permanent teachers. At Liechty, fully 72 percent of the teachers received layoff notices; at Markham, the layoffs included almost the entire English department along with every 8th grade history teacher.
The lawsuit was filed in superior court by the ACLU of Southern California, Public Counsel Law Center and the law firm of Morrison & Foerster LLP, on behalf of students at the three schools.
“At a time when California is already 46th in the nation in per-pupil spending -- and is about to drop lower -- our state and school district have chosen to balance their budgets by decimating the teaching corps at schools like Gompers, Liechty and Markham, schools which serve nearly exclusively students of color from low-income families,” said Mark Rosenbaum, chief counsel for the ACLU/SC. “Every student knows that you don’t reform a school by removing great teachers. If government can bail out the bankers of Wall Street, then it can bail out the children of Watts and Pico-Union.”
Last year California slashed its education budget and LAUSD sent layoff notices to thousands of teachers. Because state and district policies allowed an overwhelming number of the newest teachers to be hired at the highest need schools, Gompers, Liechty and Markham suffered enormous and disproportionate impacts on their teaching staffs.
“The state and school district turned back the clock to the bad old days when some kids had opportunity and others had none,” said Catherine Lhamon, director of impact litigation at Public Counsel Law Center. “We know better, and our Constitution guarantees better, for all students. This suit stands up for our children, and seeks to end the all-too-predictable decimation of their educational chances.”
Because of the layoffs, a high percentage of positions in core academic subjects at all three schools were staffed by a series of temporary replacements or rotating substitutes. Some students have had six to 10 different teachers in the first four months of the current school year. This level of instability prevents teachers and students from establishing ongoing relationships that foster trust and respect and lead to improvements in academic motivation and performance. The instability also precluded the possibility of a stable teaching corps, which studies have consistently demonstrated to be essential to effectively providing students with a successful education.
This suit is about how it’s wrong for us to have so many different teachers and not really to be learning,” said Sharail Reed, an 8th grader at Markham. “In my history class this year I had so many different teachers that it was a blur. They would write their names on the board and the next day the name would be erased because the teacher would be gone. I’m part of this suit because I’m standing up for what I believe and what I know is right.”
In the end, the teacher layoffs caused educational efforts at Gompers, Liechty, and Markham to fall below the state constitutional guarantee that all students will receive a basic education consistent with prevailing statewide standards.
Anticipating another round of threatened layoffs at LAUSD, the lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction preventing the state or LAUSD from laying off teachers at the three schools for the 2010-11 school year. Among other things, the lawsuit also seeks a permanent injunction directing the state and LAUSD to allocate funds and oversight that will enable the three schools to develop an effective and stable faculty for the more than 5,000 current and future students at Gompers, Liechty and Markham.
“For a student, there is nothing more important about school than the quality of the teachers,” said Jack Londen, a partner at Morrison & Foerster. “At the schools described in the complaint, teacher layoffs are being imposed and handled in ways that lower the ceiling on students' prospects in life. What this case challenges is a clear denial of a fundamental Constitutional right to educational opportunity in California.”