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Setback for California Students Alleging Schools Gave Them Non-Existent Classes

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UPDATED

[Update (4:35 p.m., April 24): In an email to Education Week today, the California Department of Education wrote: "We have no comment at this time because the matter is still under litigation."]

A California judge rejected a motion for a preliminary injunction from students at six California high schools who charged that they had lost important learning time by being assigned to non-existent classes where they either sat for hours doing nothing, ran errands for teachers or went home.

Superior Court Judge George C. Hernandez, Jr., denied the students' request to require the state to intervene and take whatever action was necessary to remedy the situation.

Judge Hernandez wrote that his ruling wasn't based on the merits of the case, but said attorneys for the students did not provide enough specific evidence to compare the actual amount of class time at the six schools with what's known as the "prevailing statewide standard," the average amount of instructional time at other similar California high schools. Specifically, the court stated that it needed more evidence as to what that standard was.

"The court does not mean to suggest that the policies, procedures, and professional norms described in the above-cited declarations, submitted on behalf of the plaintiffs, do not in fact exist. Nor does the court imply that these standards should be ignored," wrote Judge Hernandez, but he added that to issue a preliminary injunction he has to be able to measure "the actual quality of a plaintiff's education, as a whole, against the actual quality of most other programs in the state."

The ruling is part of a larger class-action lawsuit called Cruz vs. State of California, filed in May 2014. It alleges that students at some of the poorest and most underperforming California high schools were not receiving the same amount of "meaningful instruction time" as their peers in other schools. You can read more details about the case in previous Education Weeks articles here and here.

Attorney Mark Rosenbaum with Public Counsel, the Los Angeles-based pro bono law firm handling the case for the students, told Education Week, "there's no question that students have suffered as a consequence of these actions."

Some students at Thomas Jefferson High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District went weeks without classes at the beginning of this school year because officials mismanaged new scheduling software.  Students told the court they couldn't get the courses required for admission to California State University or the University of California.

Following that situation, Judge Hernandez issued a temporary restraining order, which we wrote about last October, ordering the state to fix the problem.

Rosenbaum said Jefferson is in "appreciably better shape," since then and has added four new teachers and an intervention specialist.  He said other schools have also made changes, but they remain "far from complete resolution" of the across-the-board relief that students need and that it will affect the ability of students graduating this year "to get into the college of their choice and to pursue their career goals."

The California Department of Education did not respond to our request to comment on the recent ruling.  Rosenbaum said attorneys for the students and the state are scheduled to meet with the judge next month to discuss the next steps, which may include setting a date for a full trial in the case.

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