Judge: State officials must act now to improve Southland's Jefferson High

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A Northern California judge ruled Wednesday that the learning time lost by dozens of students at Jefferson High School in Los Angeles is so egregious that state officials must intervene to fix the problem.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge George Hernandez granted the ACLU’s request for a temporary restraining order in the Cruz vs. California case to force the improvements.

The ACLU filed the class-action lawsuit in May on behalf of students at seven California public schools. Two more schools in Southern California, including Jefferson, were added to the suit.

The suit alleges students are deprived of days and sometimes weeks of learning time, because of, among other things, poor management of school schedules by administrators that causes students to languish without the proper classes.

“The situation at Jefferson is extreme, but it’s also typical of students at schools that have been ignored by the state for too long. Students in meaningless make-work service periods and home periods lose days and weeks of their education,” said ACLU attorney David Sapp in a written statement following the ruling.

The ACLU was uncertain how many students are enrolled in the problem classes at Jefferson High School. The ruling does not affect other schools that also place students in these classes.

The suit also alleges that students lose weeks of learning time each year when they’re assigned to “service” periods to help as aides in classrooms or the front office. Other students, plaintiffs say, are assigned to “home” periods and allowed to leave campus because the school will not place students in an academic class.

Judge Hernandez ordered officials to do what it takes to get students out of the home and service periods and into classes that would prepare them for college or graduation.

The suit names as defendants the State of California, the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

Nine schools are named in the lawsuit: Fremont High School, Dorsey High School, Jefferson High School, and Griffith Joyner Elementary School in L.A., Compton High School and Whaley Middle School in Compton are also included.

Wednesday’s ruling orders state officials to meet with L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy by Monday to identify students with two or more of home or service classes.

The school district must identify how much money and other resources it needs to place students in academic classes. State officials must then come up with the resources to pay for the district’s plan for Jefferson High. Defendants must present that plan to the L.A. Unified school board next Tuesday and to the court two days later.

Deasy, the district’s top administrator, filed a declaration last week with the court in which he agreed that the filler classes violate students’ right to an adequate education.

“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,” Deasy said.

In a statement issued after Wednesday's ruling, Deasy said: "This is another victory for youth in challenging circumstances. This is why I fought two years ago to have students have a full schedule, and why we are trying to negotiate the right to set a master schedule that meets individual school needs. We especially look to State Superintendent Tom Torlakson to support full and rigorous schedules for all youth.”

At least one member of the L.A. Unified school board took issue with Deasy’s court declaration.

“In light of Dr. Deasy's declaration, it would appear that he, too, feels that there are problems at Jefferson and throughout the District that can only be solved via court intervention,” said board member Monica Ratliff in a statement prior to the ruling.

“I look forward to a day when LAUSD's culture from top to bottom solves problems proactively without the need for court orders," Ratliff said.

The friction between the superintendent and school board that evaluates his job performance comes at an already tense time. Deasy’s priority academic improvement proposal, buying iPads for every school district student, is opposed by several board members.

It’s unclear whether a majority of the seven-member board of education would support Deasy’s dismissal in an evaluation of the superintendent now underway. The board has until Oct. 21 to complete its review.

Lawyer Sapp said the conflicts among the adults shouldn’t take the focus away from improving education for students in classrooms now.

“We shouldn’t have a fistfight in a burning building,” Sapp said.

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