LOS ANGELES - Students returning to school today will see a difference in their classrooms.

Starting Jan.1 all California public schools must post notices informing students and their parents of certain basic requirements to which they must have access like materials and a clean and safe classroom, and the notice must tell parents and students where to find complaint forms if these standards are not being met.

"This is such a relief," said Martha Sanchez, a parent of three students at 28th Street Elementary School in Los Angeles. "Now there is a process that we can follow to make schools better and be sure my daughter has a good teacher and homework every night. Parents have never had a clear way to make any improvements in our schools."

The notices are a product of the historic education class action lawsuit Williams v. California, originally filed in May of 2000 by the ACLU, the law firm of Morrison & Foerster, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), Public Advocates, Inc. and other groups. Under Senate Bill 550, schools now must establish a uniform complaint process that will help identify and resolve problems and help ensure students have a better environment in which to learn.

"Until now California has never been accountable to its students for registering and remedying complaints about serious problems in the classroom," said Catherine Lhamon, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California. "This is one of the first steps toward making positive changes to our public schools."

Students and parents can file complaints, in person or anonymously, about school deficiencies with their school principal and principals must fix valid complaints within 30 days. If not satisfied with the resolution, the student, parent or teacher may file an appeal to the school board or even the district superintendent, or for facilities problems directly to the state Allocation Board. School districts will provide public summaries of all complaints and their resolutions quarterly.

The Williams lawsuit charged the state with reneging on its constitutional obligation to provide students with the bare essentials necessary for education. The settlement takes steps toward assuring they have qualified teachers and it holds schools accountable for delivering these fundamental elements to students. It provides nearly $1 billion to accomplish these goals.

More information is available at www.decentschools.com.

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