LOS ANGELES — California’s State Board of Education today approved a settlement in a major education lawsuit brought on behalf of students who lost valuable learning time because they were placed in fake classes that lacked any instructional value.
Under the agreement reached in Cruz v. State of California, the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson will provide immediate assistance to six schools in Compton, Los Angeles and Oakland to ensure they comply with AB 1012, a new state law that limits the scheduling and course assignment practices that led to students losing valuable learning time.
Public Counsel and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California (ACLU SoCal), with the pro bono support of the law firms Carlton Fields Jorden Burt and Arnold & Porter LLP, filed the suit in May 2014.
“No child’s time in school is disposable,” said Kathryn Eidmann, a staff attorney with Public Counsel. “The settlement in the Cruz case ensures that California's most vulnerable students will no longer be sent home or warehoused in contentless classes, and it communicates the message that the promise of equal education requires no less than a full day of instruction for all of California’s students.”
“Today’s agreement makes the fundamental right to equal educational opportunity more real by offering a state-level backstop to protect students from practices that deny them a real education schools,” said David Sapp, director of education advocacy at ACLU SoCal. “We commend the state education agencies for working with us to develop a process for providing support and assistance to schools that clearly were struggling with one of the most important functions of a school: to educate students for the full school day.”
The Cruz v. California settlement will require state education officials to:
  • Offer technical assistance and support in response to any instances at the six high schools over the next two years where there are large scale scheduling problems or significant numbers of students are assigned to fake classes.
  • Modify the statewide student information system to track whenever a school assigns students to fake classes. Currently, no such record exists.
  • Issue a policy alert advising all California districts of the requirements under the AB 1012.
“The settlement announced today ends the practices in certain California underperforming high schools of assigning students to sham classes, garbage detail, mindless errands, and even dismissing students early, instead of enrollment in rigorous classes needed for graduation, to prepare and compete successfully for higher education and productive jobs, or for credit recovery,” said Mark Rosenbaum, director of Public Counsel Opportunity Under Law. “The so-called ‘achievement gap’ is in large part a matter of inequity in access to quality curriculum, and today’s resolution closes that gap by a fair amount, affirming our belief that no student deserves less than a full day’s worth of meaningful learning time.”
Together with AB 1012, the settlement will ensure that students at low-income schools, such as Jessy Cruz, are provided the same equal access to educational opportunities regardless of zip code or income. Cruz, a senior at Fremont High School in Los Angeles and the named plaintiff in the lawsuit, was placed in three classes that had no educational value, leaving him without the necessary credits to graduate.
“The resolution of this case helps put to bed the horrendous conditions that Jefferson and other schools faced and led to the temporary restraining order in this lawsuit,” said Mark A. Neubauer, an attorney with Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, who worked on the case. “We are pleased the State Department of Education is now joining with us to make sure Jesse’s experience will not be repeated.”
The problems at some schools were so severe that a state judge issued an injunction ordering the Department of Education to help fix problems at Thomas Jefferson High School, where scheduling problems resulted in some students languishing without classes for months.
“Education is a fundamental right and equality in education is critical to achieving our ultimate goals of racial and income equality,” said John C. Ulin, Partner at Arnold & Porter LLP, who also worked on the Cruz litigation. “With so much on the line, our public school system cannot discriminate on the basis of race or parents' income or where you live. This settlement is a real step in the right direction. It represents major progress toward an equal education for all Californians.”
The practice of limiting learning time uncovered through the Cruz litigation is not unique to California schools. Recognizing the importance of learning time, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Department of Education have made maximizing quality learning time a top strategic goal as part of Race to the Top’s turnaround program for the nation’s lowest performing schools.
A state court must still grant final approval to the settlement. Once granted, Public Counsel and ACLU SoCal will monitor the settlement and will engage in a public education campaign starting in the six schools identified in the settlement, and statewide once AB 1012 goes into effect.
Read the settlement and additional background information
Contact: Manny Rivera, (626) 864-7467, mrivera@wearerally.com (for Public Counsel) Sandra Hernandez, (213) 977-5247, shernandez@aclusocal.org