LOS ANGELES - Today, on the 46th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, civil rights groups and attorneys in California filed the most comprehensive lawsuit concerning the bare minimums required for education ever to be brought against a state. The historic class-action lawsuit was filed in California Superior Court on behalf of students in eighteen schools located throughout California. The lawsuit charges the state with having reneged on its constitutional obligation to provide at least the bare essentials necessary for education to all students. The suit also charges California with having violated state and federal requirements that equal access to public education be provided without regard to race, color, or national origin.
The suit was filed jointly by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California; ACLU of Northern California; Morrison & Foerster; Public Advocates, Inc.; Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund; Newman, Aaronson, Vanaman; Center for Law in the Public Interest; Asian Pacific American Legal Center, Karl Mannheim, Esq.; Allan Ides, Esq, and Peter Edelman, Esq.
Plaintiffs have been subjected to the following conditions as part of their everyday educational experience:
Lack of Materials and Basic Resources
-no textbooks or other educationally necessary curricular material
-too few textbooks or other educationally necessary curricular material
-outdated or defaced textbooks
-no or not enough basic school supplies
-no access to a library
-no or not enough access to computers and computer instruction
-not enough labs
-no or not enough lab materials
-no access to music or art classes
-too few guidance counselors Inadequate Instruction
-as few as 13% of teachers with full teaching credentials
-chronically unfilled teacher vacancies
-heavy reliance on substitute teachers in place of permanent teachers
-no homework assignments due to lack of materials
-classes without enough seats and desks, so students sit on counters
-cramped, makeshift classrooms
-multitrack schedules that curtail the calendar length of courses
-multitrack schedules that prevent continuous, year-to-year study in a given subject
-multitrack schedules that force students to take key exams before completing the full course of study
Degraded, Unhealthful Facilities and Conditions
-broken or nonexistent air conditioning or heating systems; extremely hot or cold classrooms
-toilets that don't flush; toilets that are filthy with urine, excrement, or blood; toilets that are locked
-lack of working water fountains
-unrepaired, hazardous facilities, including broken windows, walls, and ceilings
-leaky roofs and mold
-no school nurse on premises
"These are schools that shock the conscience, schools where students can't learn and teachers can't teach," said Mark Rosenbaum, Legal Director of the ACLU of Southern California. "These schools are the shame of California."
"The failures this lawsuit addresses are not randomly distributed," observed Julie Su, Litigation Director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. "They're concentrated in communities of color, in economically struggling communities, and in immigrant communities. The state's neglect has a clearly discriminatory impact."
In fact, data from the California Department of Education show that in plaintiffs' schools, 96.4% of the population is students of color, compared to 59% statewide.
"In one of the only problem categories measured by the state & the percent of uncredentialed teachers in a school," noted Su, "the correlation is clear. The more students of color attending a school, the more untrained teachers will be teaching at that school. The same holds true for students who qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches. These numbers aren't the result of coincidence: this system discriminates."
"This is the Mississippification of California's schools," said Rosenbaum, "a separate and unequal system for the have-nots that would make Linda Brown shudder."
"At the start of the 21st century, all of California's children should be attending state-of-the-art learning centers," said Hector Villagra, staff attorney at Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. "Yet, just as Latino children have become the majority of our state's public school children, California has ignored rampant overcrowding and the urgent need for new school construction, depriving hundreds of thousands of children of the most basic element of an acceptable educational experience. Every child deserves - and the state must provide - room to learn."
"Forty-six years ago today, the Supreme Court in Brown vs. Board of Education rejected a system of inequality that had come to be accepted by many in this country as a natural state of affairs," said Ramona Ripston, Executive Director of the ACLU of Southern California. "Today, we're asking this country to reject another system of unequal education, a system that blocks some children from learning and growing to their full potential. The State of California has the resources to provide all children with a good education, and we cannot afford to do anything less."