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Los Angeles Students' Education Rights Violated, Judge Rules

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A California judge ordered Wednesday that state education officials take immediate action to ensure that Los Angeles high school students forced to miss weeks of classes get into the courses they need.

"Put bluntly, the harms already suffered are severe and pervasive; there is no evidence of an imminent solution," wrote Alameda County Superior Court Judge George Hernandez, Jr. in granting a temporary restraining order sought by students at Thomas Jefferson High School.

It's been eight weeks since the fall semester began, and many Jefferson students still haven't started some of their classes due to problems implementing the school's new scheduling software.  

Instead of getting courses they need to graduate, students were placed in classes that don't exist, classes they'd already taken, or classrooms that were so overcrowded there weren't enough chairs and desks.

Wednesday's court order applies to students who are academically behind or missing courses necessary for graduation or college admission.

Jefferson serves predominantly low-income students of color. Public Counsel and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, two nonprofit legal groups representing the students, filed a motion last week, arguing that the loss of meaningful instruction time violates the students' state constitutional right to education.

Senior Jesus Tamayo said in a deposition that he received a "completely mixed up schedule" the first day of school that has already changed six times and he expects it will be revised at least one more time.

Tamayo said he was initially assigned to three hours of what's known as college class or adult class, which is really a faux class. Students were just told to sit in the auditorium.

"Because I had both 'College Class' and 'Adult Class' in a row, I was supposed to sit in the auditorium for three hours straight," said Tamayo. "I often chose to just leave school and go home."

He's worried that there may not be enough time to make up the work in his required classes in order to graduate on time next spring.

Jason Magaña, also a senior, said in his deposition that at one point there were as many as 200 students waiting in the auditorium during any given class period. 
Magaña was initially put into a graphic design class that he had already taken twice instead of being placed in economics or government, which he needs to get into college.

"What's clear from the mess at Jefferson is that the California Superintendent of Public Instruction and state Board of Education don't have the time of day for inner-city students," said Public Counsel attorney Mark Rosenbaum in a press statement.

The request for a temporary restraining order stems from Cruz v. California, a class-action lawsuit filed in May by Public Counsel and the ACLU on behalf of students at seven of California's poorest schools.  

As Education Week reported here at that time, students claimed they weren't getting the same amount of instruction as wealthier districts because of disruptions due to a shortage of teachers, insufficient counselors, safety concerns, and overcrowded classrooms.

Students said this is an annual problem at Jefferson High and the other six schools named in the original class-action lawsuit, although Michael Soller, communications director for Public Counsel, said he's never seen things as bad as they are this year.

Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy issued a legal statement supporting the temporary restraining order, not just for Jefferson High but also for every high school in the district that assigns students to "content-free courses."  

Judge Hernandez said Deasy's statement, coupled the district's "protracted and inexplicable inaction," made it clear that Los Angeles Unified "needs state intervention."

But in a press release issued following the judge's ruling, the state department of education, while agreeing to comply with the order, also reiterated its ongoing contention that "scheduling of classes is a local matter that belongs with local school officials."

Judge Hernandez rejected that argument. Citing a 1992 California superior court ruling that held the state responsible for the fundamental educational rights of California students, he said the state superintendent of public instruction, the state board of education, and the state department of education "bear ultimate responsibility for any constitutional deprivations."

He gave them until October 13, 2014, to meet with Superintendent Deasy to develop a plan to remedy the scheduling problem, and ordered it implemented no later than November 3, 2014. 

   

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