Law & Courts

Voicing Complaints

By Joetta L. Sack — February 15, 2005 2 min read

The fight to improve conditions in some of California’s neediest schools is far from over.

Several hundred students and advocates last week protested what they say is the failure of school districts to live up to the conditions laid out by the state last fall when it settled the Williams v. California case by promising more resources and rights to students in impoverished schools.

According to the objectors, some schools are not posting notices about how to file complaints over violations of the law, which seeks to address such issues as substandard facilities and textbook shortages. The settlement requires notices to be posted in every classroom, beginning Jan. 1, 2005.

To make their concerns known, the students, who skipped school, and advocates held rallies in five cities around the state: Fresno, Long Beach, Oakland, San Diego, and San Jose.

About 70 people, mostly high school students, attended the rally outside a state office building in Oakland, said John Affeldt, a managing lawyer with the San Francisco-based watchdog group Public Advocates, one of three groups that provided legal help to the students in the four-year legal battle.

He said the demonstrators targeted districts and schools that they feel are not complying with the settlement. Oakland officials did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Last year, the state agreed to pay more than $1 billion for textbooks, renovations to facilities, and health and safety studies for students in the highest-poverty districts. (“With $1 Billion Pledge, Calif. Settles Lawsuit,” Sept. 1, 2004.)

The California Department of Education has posted a sample complaint notice on its Web site.

Sherry S. Griffith, a legislative advocate for the Association of California School Administrators, said schools that had not yet posted the notices were “the exception rather than the rule,” and were likely confused by the settlement’s numerous requirements and deadlines. Further, the state board of education is not scheduled to pass its regulations dictating the content of the notices until next month.

She said the administrators association has frequently reminded its members about the notification deadline through its Web site, newsletter, and e-mails.

Meanwhile, Mr. Affeldt said his group was continuing to monitor the Williams implementation. “We’re giving the districts a little breathing room this first year, but if we do find districts not following the settlement,” he said, “we’re prepared to go into court.”

A version of this article appeared in the February 16, 2005 edition of Education Week

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