LOS ANGELES – Students with violent and traumatic pasts sued the Compton Unified School District on Monday, alleging they are legally disabled and the school has failed to meet their educational needs.
The lawsuit, believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, contends that under federal educational rules and the Americans with Disabilities Act, the district should establish special mental health and other services to help students with "complex trauma."
That would include methods used by other districts such as San Francisco's, including special training for teachers and staff; teaching children "skills to cope with their anxiety and emotions"; and "restorative" discipline strategies that don't rely on suspending or expelling the students, according to the suit.
Trauma "stems from such causes as exposure to violence and loss, family disruptions related to deportation, incarceration and/or the foster system, systemic racism and discrimination, and the extreme stress of lacking basic necessities, such as not knowing where the next meal will come from or where to sleep that night," according to the lawsuit.
Studies have shown that such trauma can affect a child's developing brain and psychology and such children do worse in school and have more absences and poorer graduation rates, the lawsuit said.
The Compton district has nearly 26,000 students in 40 schools. The city south of downtown Los Angeles struggles with violence and poverty, recording 25 homicides and hundreds of other violent crimes in the past 12 months, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of three teachers and five teenage students who had been transferred or kicked out of schools for disciplinary problems.
They include a 17-year-old Dominguez High School junior who was physically and sexually abused by boyfriends of his drug-addict mother and after becoming homeless slept on the high school roof for two months this year, the lawsuit said.
"At no time did administrators provide any support or services. Instead, he was suspended," the lawsuit said.
The student, identified only as Peter P., saw his best friend shot to death in middle school, said he has seen more than 20 people getting shot, and was stabbed last year when he tried to help a friend whose relative was attacking her with a knife, the lawsuit said.
The student said he had bouts of uncontrollable anger, the lawsuit said.
"My anger is not normal," he said, according to the lawsuit. "Sometimes I believe my aura is wicked. Sometimes I believe I have a demon in me."
Another student saw someone killed when he was 8 and "has had guns fired at him on more than one occasion, and has been caught in crossfire approximately eight times," the suit said.
"To close the achievement gap, we must deal with trauma," Mark Rosenbaum of Public Counsel, one of two law firms that filed the lawsuit, said in a statement. "Prolonged exposure to trauma results in injuries to the developing minds of children. It's the type of roadblock to learning that our federal anti-discrimination laws were created to address."
District Superintendent Darin Brawley said he had not yet seen the lawsuit but would review its allegations.
"We take very seriously all allegations regarding the quality of education of our students," he told the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/1HqO2HB). "The district is committed to providing a quality education to all students and will continue to do so."