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Reading & Literacy

Literacy Lawsuit in California Can Proceed, Court Rules

By Stephen Sawchuk — July 24, 2018 1 min read

A California lawsuit asserting that literacy is a fundamental right within the state constitution has been cleared to proceed.

A state Superior Court judge overruled a motion by the state education department, board of education, and superintendent to dismiss the lawsuit. Her decision means that the lawsuit is presumably cleared to go to trial, although the plaintiffs appear to be hoping that the state will settle long before that. If so, it would probably mean putting new funding into literacy programs and instruction in the Golden State.

The public interest law firm Public Counsel and a global law firm, Morrison Foerster, are representing the plaintiffs: students in three low-performing California schools that mostly serve black and Latino students.

In her July 18 ruling, Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos agreed that, as minorities, the students have a valid class claim. And, she wrote, since the state is ultimately responsible for the quality of education, the students’ claim that their education fell far below “prevailing statewide standards” is valid.

In essence, the lawsuit faults the state for not intervening in the low-performing schools to ensure that the students could read at grade level, despite evidence from state tests of chronic low performance and the existence of a statewide literacy plan. Read more about the case in this story I wrote when the lawsuit was filed back in December 2017.

The California lawsuit echoes a federal one brought in Michigan by current and former Detroit students, who are also being represented by Public Counsel. That federal lawsuit was dismissed by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, but the plaintiffs plan to appeal.

The core argument in both of them is that the inability to read and write precludes people from exercising other civic duties, like the right to vote.

Photo credit: Romanus_too. Licensed under Flickr/Creative Commons.


See also: Reading Is Fundamental. But It’s Not a Fundamental Right, Court Rules


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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.