SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – California education officials must get involved in fixing a slew of scheduling and class-assignment problems that have unconstitutionally deprived students at a Los Angeles high school of weeks of valuable learning time this fall, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Acting on a request from lawyers for three students at Thomas Jefferson Senior High School, Alameda County Superior Court Judge George Hernandez Jr. issued an emergency order directing the state's schools superintendent, appointed school board and Department of Education to work with Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasey in developing a plan to immediately remedy the problems.
Those include, according to the judge, "widespread scheduling failures" such as students being put into classes they have already taken or assigned without their parents' permission to "content-less" periods that do not further their educations, but either consist of meaningless chores or unsupervised time in which they are sent to the auditorium or even home.
Hernandez said he found the chaos, disruption and deficiencies at a school with a student population that is 91 percent Latino shocking. The judge also said he found unpersuasive the argument by the outside attorneys representing Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and the State Board of Education that the problems are the school district's alone to fix.
"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.
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State school officials did not have immediate comment, but they said they were working on a response to the order.
Los Angeles Unified officials have said the problems at Jefferson stemmed from the introduction of new scheduling software and not having enough teachers.
Hernandez ordered state and district officials to identify every Jefferson student enrolled in the wrong class or two or more periods of non-academic work and offer them the chance to enroll in substitute courses that are "substantive, instructional, appropriate for that student's grade level and fulfill Jefferson's obligation to ensure that the student has timely access to courses needed for graduation and college eligibility." He also said officials must give students a way to catch up on the work they have missed.
Hernandez gave them until Tuesday to present a plan to the Los Angeles school board for approval.
The case is part of a lawsuit filed in May against the state that alleges similar problems exist in seven other elementary, middle and high schools in the Los Angeles, Oakland, West Contra Costa and Compton districts.
Public Counsel Staff Attorney Kathryn Eidmann, whose group brought the lawsuit along with lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, said that while the judge's order only affects the situation at Jefferson for now, it shows he is sympathetic to the argument that losing out on time with a teacher violates a student's constitutional right to equal educational opportunity. That could be significant as the broader lawsuit moves forward, Eidmann said.
"The judge has now endorsed the theory that when students are deprived of large amounts of learning time, their rights are being violated," she said.