State settles lawsuit over ‘fake’ classes


November 13, 2015

LOS ANGELES — The state Board of Education has agreed to approve a settlement in a class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of students who lost learning time because they were placed in so-called “fake” classes that lacked instructional value.

Four schools in Los Angeles County — Fremont, Jefferson and Miller Dorsey high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District and Compton High School in the Compton Unified School District — were named in Cruz v. State of California, along with two in Alameda County, where the suit was filed.

Under the agreement, state education officials will provide assistance to those six schools to ensure they comply with a new state law that limits the scheduling and course assignment practices that led to students losing learning time.

“No child’s time in school is disposable,” said Kathryn Eidmann, a staff attorney with Public Counsel, a law firm which helped bring the suit in Alameda County Superior Court.

“The settlement in the Cruz case ensures that California’s most vulnerable students will no longer be sent home or warehoused in content-less 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,” she said.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said the settlement “reaffirms my commitment and the California Department of Education’s commitment to help identify and coordinate local resources for districts with significant problems scheduling students.”

Added state Board of Education President Mike Kirst: “The state’s academic standards aim to ensure that when students graduate high school, they are prepared for credit-bearing college course work and careers. It is important for our schools to provide meaningful course work so students can meet these standards.”

Under the settlement, which becomes final when approved by a judge, the education department will pay $400,000 in legal fees to the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit alleged that, with no requirement or tracking of actual learning time, many lower-income students received less education than those enrolled in higher performing schools.

“The settlement … ends the practices in certain California under-performing 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, lead counsel for the plaintiffs.

“The so-called ‘achievement gap’ is in large part a matter of inequity in access to quality curriculum, and [this] 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,” he said.

Together with Assembly Bill 1012, which takes effect next July, the settlement will ensure that students such as Jessy Cruz, at low-income schools, are provided the same equal access to educational opportunities regardless of zip code or income.

Cruz, a senior at Fremont High in South 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 settlement requires state education officials to offer technical assistance and support in response to any instances 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; and issue a policy alert advising all California districts of the requirements under the new law.

“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 who worked on the case. “We are pleased the State Department of Education is now joining with us to make sure Jessy’s experience will not be repeated.”

The problems were so severe at Jefferson High that a state judge issued an injunction ordering the Department of Education to help fix problems at the 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 attorney John C. Ulin, 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,” he said. “This settlement is a real step in the right direction. It represents major progress toward an equal education for all Californians.”

 

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