Citing Widespread Complaints, CA Civil Rights Groups Expand Landmark Education Lawsuit

August 15, 2000 12:00 am

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SAN FRANCISCO — Responding to a flood of calls from parents appalled at schools plagued by filthy facilities, vermin and outdated textbooks, a coalition of civil rights groups today named nearly 50 more schools in its landmark education lawsuit.

“Since filing the original complaint, we have been inundated with calls from parents across the state who are appalled at the conditions in which their children are forced to try to learn,” said Michelle Alexander, an attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, one of the participants in the lawsuit.

“The problems in these schools are not isolated; they are traceable to the state’s abdication of its responsibility to ensure that every child receives the basic minimum necessities as required by the state Constitution,” she said.

The landmark class-action lawsuit, filed in May of this year, charges the state with reneging on its constitutional obligation to provide the bare essentials necessary for education and says that officials violated state and federal requirements that equal access to public education be provided without regard to race, color, or national origin.

The amended complaint, filed today in San Francisco Superior Court, now cites 46 schools — including a dozen in Northern California — where students lack the bare essentials necessary for an education.

The 100 student plaintiffs in the case are represented by the ACLU of Northern and Southern California, Public Advocates, Inc., Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the law firm of Morrison & Foerster and other civil rights groups and cooperating attorneys.

Although the original suit was filed in May, the civil rights coalition said that they still have not received an adequate response from the state defendants.

“We remain perplexed by the State’s unwillingness to recognize its responsibility to resolve these problems,” said Michael Jacobs of Morrison & Foerster, which is working pro bono on the lawsuit. “This amended complaint points to the extent of the problems facing California students trying to learn in substandard conditions.”

The new northern California schools cited include San Francisco’s Balboa High School; Oakland’s Fremont High School, Garfield Elementary, Whittier Elementary and Webster Academy; Watsonville High School; Redwood and Mt. Whitney High Schools in Visalia; Tenaya Middle School in Merced; as well as schools in Cloverdale, Campbell and Berry Creek.

Alondra Sharae Jones, a senior at Balboa, said “I hope this lawsuit will make sure that public school students get the education they deserve. I don’t want to see kids having to take responsibility anymore for mistakes that adults have made.”

“The conditions under which kids at our school learn remind me of Brown vs. Board of Education all over again,” added Balboa High history teacher Alison Dills. “Now, however, the division is not about race so much as socioeconomic status. The education that my students receive is separate, but certainly not equal, to the high schools labeled as high achieving schools.”

Science teacher Toai Dao at Oakland’s Fremont High School agreed. “We need to give students a fair chance. The state needs to take care of the bare essentials by giving students books and desks and making schools less crowded.”

“The worst of these conditions tend to be concentrated in schools populated by California’s non-white, non-English speaking, and poor children,” said attorney Thorn Ndaizee Meweh, of Public Advocates, Inc. “Our state Constitution guarantees an equal public education for all California’s children. And for good reason: the injury done to a child by poor educational facilities is long-lasting and can haunt their life far into adulthood.”

The case is Williams et al., v. State of California. The plaintiffs are represented by the ACLU affiliates of Northern and Southern California and San Diego, Public Advocates, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, Center for Law in the Public Interest, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, and MALDEF, as well as cooperating attorneys from Morrison & Foerster, the law firm Newman, Aaronson,Vanaman, Loyola Law School and Georgetown University Law Center.

The ACLU has a toll-free statewide hotline for parents, teachers and students to report poor conditions in schools: 1-877-53-CAL-ED [1-877-532-2533].

The original legal complaint in the case can be read online at: http://www.aclu-sc.org/docs/complainteducation.pdf.

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