In Groundbreaking Settlement, California Must Guarantee Equal Education for All

March 21, 2000 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES — Under the settlement terms of a groundbreaking lawsuit, students lacking books, restroom facilities and even teachers will now be guaranteed the right to an equal education opportunity under the state constitution, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California said today.

The ACLU, which brought the class action lawsuit in 1997 on behalf of the 29,000 students in the Compton Unified School District, said the settlement is the first to require by court order that the state provide students within a particular school district educational opportunities equal to other California students in grades K-12. The law firm Newman, Aaronson, Vanaman also represented the students and their parents.

Mark Rosenbaum, Legal Director of the ACLU of Southern California, praised the court-approved settlement as “adding the essential fourth R to the 3 R’s of education – ‘Responsibility.’ For the first time in decades, the Compton school system receives passing marks when it comes to affording equal educational opportunity to its students.”

Rosenbaum credited the successful negotiation to the commitment of State Administrator Randolph Ward, State Superintendent Delaine Eastin and her staff.

In its 1997 lawsuit, Serna v. Eastin, the ACLU charged state education officials with failing to provide students an equal and adequate education and a safe learning environment following the state’s takeover of the district in 1993. The suit was the first of its kind ever to be filed in California.

Students in the district had been denied the most basic educational tools available to public school students elsewhere in California, such as textbooks, certified teachers, and classroom homework policies. In addition, students were deprived of even minimally acceptable learning conditions as a consequence of unusable restrooms, boarded-up windows, broken lights and exposed electrical wiring.

Some of the terms of the settlement include:

  • The provision of appropriate in-class and take-home textbooks in all core subjects to all students in the district
  • The presence of a certified teacher in every classroom on every school day
  • The development of a plan to reduce district-wide employee absenteeism
  • The implementation of a homework policy at every school site
  • Assuring healthful and safe schools district-wide
  • Regular community meetings to elicit parent feedback
  • The neutral monitoring of the conditions in school facilities by an independent party, with clear evaluation standards for progress as to educational equity and facilities improvements

Commenting on the settlement Dr. Randolph Ward, state administrator of the Compton School District in Los Angeles, said, “There are too many low performing, persistently failing school districts in this country. Six years ago, Compton was one of them. Today, you will find a different picture here.”

“The court approved settlement has provided us with a useful tool in making needed changes to facilitate student success in the classroom,” Dr. Ward added. “It took a lot of hard work for the Compton Unified School District to have reached this point in its recovery and there is still a lot of hard work ahead.”

In recent years, the ACLU has won lawsuits on behalf of students denied equal and/or adequate education in Alabama, Vermont, and Connecticut.

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