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Schroeder v. Palm Beach County School Board

Last Update: March 18, 2008

What's at Stake

In this case, the ACLU charges that the shamefully low high school graduation rates in Florida’s Palm Beach County violate students’ constitutional right to a high-quality education.

On March 18, 2008, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a first-of-its-kind class action lawsuit against the School Board and Superintendent of Palm Beach County, Florida, charging that the district’s failure to graduate nearly 1 in 3 students violates the state constitution’s mandate of a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality education.” This is the first case in the country focusing on graduation rates as an indicator of educational adequacy.

The aim of the ACLU lawsuit is threefold: to improve overall graduation rates; to improve graduation rates for each subgroup of students; and to develop a more reliable method of calculating graduation rates.

Currently, an estimated 1 in 3 Palm Beach County students does not graduate with a regular high school diploma in four years. However, according to the ACLU’s complaint, the method Florida uses for calculating graduation rates inflates the number of diploma recipients in Palm Beach County.

Additionally, there are significant disparities between the graduation rates of Black and Hispanic students and the graduation rates of white students. Importantly, Palm Beach County’s low high school graduation rates and the disparity between the graduation rates of African-American and Hispanic students and those of white students cannot be attributed to demographic idiosyncrasies. School districts in the state and around the country with similar demographics have higher graduation rates than Palm Beach County. For example, in 2004, using a method of developed by the Civil Rights Project and the Urban Institute, the schools systems in Maryland’s Baltimore and Montgomery counties and Virginia’s Fairfax County had graduation rates slightly above 80 percent, compared to only 56.1 percent in Palm Beach County.

The implications of not graduating such a substantial percentage of students are obvious. People who do not graduate from high school are far more likely than graduates to be unemployed, in prison and living in poverty than their counterparts. A recent independent study reported in the Washington Post showed that high school dropouts in the District of Columbia stand to lose $615 million in lifetime earnings compared to graduates. The study also found that the city would save more than $20 million in health care costs if D.C.’s high school dropouts graduated.

Attorneys on this case are Chris Hansen, Vanita Gupta, and Larry Schwartztol of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program; Muslima Lewis of the ACLU of Florida; Deborah N. Archer of New York Law School; and cooperating attorney Ramona M. Hupp.

U.S. News & World Report, Keeping Count of Students Who Drop Out (5/16/08)
The Christian Science Monitor, Low Graduation Rate Draws Florida Lawsuit (3/26/08)
Florida Courier, ACLU Sues Palm Beach County for Dismal HS Grad Rates

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