Thomas Jefferson High School (photo: Nick Ut, Associated Press)
An Alameda Superior Court judge didn’t wait for the resolution of a class-action lawsuit (pdf) filed in May alleging schools in Los Angeles County were denying students meaningful classes through mismanagement.
Instead, he responded to a plea that something be done immediately about the most egregious case, Thomas Jefferson High School, and on Wednesday issued an order that the state make sure the kids are in real classes learning about real things. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is not a party to the lawsuit, but Judge George Hernandez Jr.’s ruling implicitly indicts them and the state for failing to educate students.
State officials argued that fixing the problems was the responsibility of school districts, but the judge saw it otherwise:
“Put bluntly, the harms already suffered are severe and pervasive; there is no evidence of an imminent solution; defendants disclaim their constitutional responsibilities, and the harm to students (who are among the State’s most challenged)) is compounding daily,” he wrote.
Kids at Jefferson and eight other schools that are parties to the suit were getting a substandard education before LAUSD’s new computer system, which it says is responsible for “attendance, scheduling, grades, counseling, discipline, health, A-G course completion, and a great deal more,” failed to work properly.
Students were assigned to wrong classes or not registered at all, while others stood in long lines for answers or were shuffled off to the auditorium. Schedules and records were lost.
The larger lawsuit questions whether the state should get involved in curtailing district and school practices that substitute sham, make-work classes for the real thing. Invariably, those substitutions are made in underfunded schools attended by low-income students. Jefferson is 91% Latino.
LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy agreed with that assessment in a declaration he filed with the court, to the surprise of some of his colleagues at district headquarters. “These ‘classes’ are not designed to deliver real instruction or learning opportunities to students, but rather are no more than fillers to plug gaps where no genuine courses are readily available,” he wrote.
Deasy is under fire for, among other things, his leadership in pursuing a $1-billion project to equip every student in K-12 with an iPad. The board of education may consider his dismissal as early as this month.
Judge Hernandez ordered the school district to figure out what it would take to put all the students at Jefferson in meaningful classes, and he put state officials on notice that they better figure out a way to pay for it, if necessary. He gave the state until next week to present a plan to the school board and the court.