Eighteen students from seven low-performing schools in California have filed a class action against the state and its top education officials, claiming they have not been given the same amount of time to learn as students in wealthier areas.
The pro bono law firm Public Counsel and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California filed the suit in Alameda County Superior Court. All the plaintiffs’ schools are located in low-income urban communities.
“Students at these schools have been losing hours, days, and even months of their education since the day they started kindergarten,” Kathryn Eidmann, a staff lawyer at Public Counsel, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
While the schools’ schedules look fine on paper, the suit argues, a slew of factors, in practice, decrease learning time. They include teacher absences and long-term vacancies, scheduling mix-ups because of overburdened counselors, frequent lockdowns, and fake “service” courses in which students do office work and run errands.
“The California constitution places an affirmative obligation on the state to safeguard the indispensable right to an equal education, no matter the circumstances,” the complaint argues. “Basic equality in education then must begin with the guarantee that no child be denied the time required to learn what the state itself mandates be taught.”
The lawsuit asks the state to establish a system to identify “grossly disparate meaningful learning time” and ensure that schools don’t fall below the norm. It also requests that time be recovered at the plaintiffs’ schools by providing them with more counselors, resources for class scheduling, and teacher training.
In a statement, state schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson and Michael W. Kirst, the president of the state board of education, dismissed the litigation as “costly and unnecessary.” They said that state officials are working on giving districts more control over how they spend state money, and that local control is “the best way to improve student achievement and meet the needs of our schools.
A version of this article appeared in the June 11, 2014 edition of Education Week as California Students Sue State to Get More Instructional Time