Today the ACLU of Southern California filed a class action lawsuit against the Los Angeles Unified School District, its Superintendent and Board of Education, the State Superintendent of Public Education, and the State Department of Education on behalf of children attending Rosemont Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles. The suit challenges school administrators' decision to conduct five separate classes (four classes of third-graders, and one class of second-graders) simultaneously in the Rosemont school auditorium, without sound barriers, floor-to-ceiling visual barriers or adequate space for learning and safety. [click here to view a floor plan of the auditorium]
'Subjecting these young seven-to nine-year-old children to this learning environment denies the children their Constitutional right to a free, adequate and equal public education,' said ACLU-SC Executive Director Ramona Ripston. 'Given the deplorable conditions under which these classes are forced to operate, how can we reasonably expect these teachers and students to succeed? '
During the 1998-1999 school year, Rosemont Avenue Elementary School conducted three third-grade classes simultaneously in the school auditorium. Beginning last July, when the year-round school year began, and continuing to this day, four third-grade classes and one second-grade class, totaling five classes and one hundred students, are forced to coexist in the Rosemont Avenue Elementary School auditorium. Teachers had to ask for donations of cloth partitions to use to separate the classes. Unfortunately, those partitions provide no sound barrier between the classes. The students often cannot hear their teachers, each other, or school loud-speaker announcements because of the noise level in the auditorium.
'The days of the one-room schoolhouse ended with the last millennium. But at Rosemont, students are being warehoused, divided only by ramshackle partitions, as if education were taking place in a M.A.S.H unit,' said ACLU-SC Legal Director Mark Rosenbaum. 'This is the first case of its kind in the state, and we're hopeful that the school district will seek a quick resolution to ensure that these children are not denied the same educational opportunities that the majority of children throughout the state receive.'
'I want my daughter to be in a classroom like other third graders,' said Adrian Rios, the father of plaintiff Daisy Rios. 'The walls in the auditorium are not appropriate for the five classes. The children sometimes yell and everything is audible. Even when the children are just speaking normally in class, all they say can be heard.'
The suit alleges that the second- and third-grade children attending Rosemont Avenue Elementary School are being denied their right to equal protection of the law because they must learn under conditions that fall fundamentally below prevailing statewide standards. In addition, the suit will challenge the conditions of the school for having a racially discriminatory impact on these children, 99.5% of whom are children of color. Third grader Natalie Molina, on of the plaintiffs in the case, said 'I want to learn more because I don't want to go low, I want to go high ... to the next level.'
The ACLU is seeking to have the children placed in separate classrooms, where they will be able to hear their teachers, move around their room safely and take full advantage of their right to a quality education.
Catherine Lhamon, an ACLU-SC staff attorney, added, 'The children at Rosemont, 99.5% of whom are children of color and more than 90% of whom receive free or reduced priced meals, are the forgotten children in our state. Through this lawsuit, the ACLU seeks to make the state and the school district remember these children, and be accountable to them.'