None of us would want our child or sibling to attend a school that fails to provide even the most basic classes needed to earn a degree and gain access to college. Yet that is exactly what was happening at Jefferson High School in Los Angeles.

Today, a judge stepped in to address this ongoing crisis, ordering the State of California and state education officials to intervene so students at Jefferson don’t lose even more learning time. The order in Cruz v. State of California requires state officials to work with the district to develop a plan to identify students who are assigned to these faux classes, allow them to enroll in alternate classes with curricular content that will allow them to meet graduation or college access requirements, and have a system to ensure they can catch up on what they’ve already missed. The plan is due by October 16.
The ACLU Foundation of Southern California (ACLU SoCal), Public Counsel and the law firms Carlton Fields Jorden Burt and Arnold & Porter LLP asked the court to intervene because the situation at Jefferson High School is dire. Consider, for example, that nearly two months into the school year, many students still don’t have complete schedules. Others are assigned to classes they have already taken and passed. Others are enrolled in “service classes” where they sit in the library or file papers in the office and receive no instruction. Others are simply sent home as early as 11:20 in the morning for something called “home period.”

Sadly, the crisis is not limited to Jefferson High School. That’s why we filed Cruz, to address the systemic problems that for too long have consistently delivered less instruction time to students in low-income communities and often left some students shut out of the classes they need, effectively providing only a partial opportunity to learn, earn a degree and go on to college.

Today’s ruling is a victory for the students at Jefferson, who want to learn but aren’t being given the opportunity to do so. It also affirms that the state is ultimately responsible for ensuring that students have an equal chance to succeed in school and can’t sit idly by while students are at risk of losing an entire year of education through no fault of their own.

David Sapp is director of education advocacy/legal counsel at the ACLU of Southern California. Follow ACLU SOCal on Twitter.