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Calif. Students Scheduled to Run Errands Ask Judge to Require 'Real' Classes

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Students at six California high schools that primarily enroll low-income students of color have asked a judge to force state education officials to intervene to make sure they get the courses they need to graduate and be prepared for college, instead of being placed in what they allege are classes in name only where they run errands or sit around doing nothing. 

Attorneys for the students filed the motion last week in the ongoing case of Cruz vs. State of California, which also includes elementary and middle schools, that accuses the California Department of Education, the California Board of Education, and the state superintendent of public instruction of violating both the state education code and the students' state constitutional right to equal educational opportunity by allowing the situation to continue.  For more background on the case, read this Education Week blog written by my predecessor Samantha Stainburn.

In addition to being assigned to service periods where they had to "clean classrooms, make photo copies, run errands, or simply sit around and socialize," the lawsuit also claims that students have been placed in the wrong classes, in classes they've already taken or in overcrowded classes without enough chairs and desks.

"For example," the complaint alleges, "Fremont [high school] in Oakland began the 2014-2015 school year with over 80 students assigned to some classrooms."

 The suit also alleges that students were scheduled for classes that didn't actually exist and were sent home, were not given classes they needed for college, and had no permanent teachers in some courses.

Johnae Twinn, a senior at Castlemont High School in Oakland, said in her declaration that she is interested in medicine but was not assigned to any science class except physiology and that was cancelled when the school couldn't find a teacher.  Twinn also couldn't get into AP government, history or English because they were full. During sixth period, when she has no class scheduled, Twinn said she sits in on a second section of English 4 because she "get[s] more out of it than just going home."

Information gathered by Public Counsel and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which are providing pro bono representation for the students, indicates that the situation is improving, but schools have scheduled students for as many as 82 service periods and 156 home periods where they receive no instruction, no supervision, and are often sent home.

When asked for a response, a spokesperson for the state education department said officials don't comment on pending litigation.  However, last October, after students at Jefferson High School in Los Angeles, one of the schools involved in lawsuit, sought and won a temporary restraining order to fix an extensive master schedule snafu, attorneys for the state argued that the problem should be dealt with locally.

"The plaintiffs' declarations are troubling, and they deserve a thorough and substantive response. That response and appropriate remedies, however,  should come at the school site and school district level," they wrote last October in a court filing.

After the judge approved that temporary restraining order for Jefferson High, which Education Week reported here, the state department of education requested and received approval from the California Department of Finance for nearly $3.4 million to hire private attorneys to work on the case.

A spokesperson for the state board of education said its legal counsel will be filing a response by the March 5 deadline. The judge has scheduled a hearing on the preliminary injunction for late next month.

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