Settlement reached in California suit on learning time

Former Fremont High School student Briana Lamb was among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit that alleged schools deprived students of their rights by placing them in classes without academics or simply sent them home.
Former Fremont High School student Briana Lamb was among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit that alleged schools deprived students of their rights by placing them in classes without academics or simply sent them home.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

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Attorneys for student plaintiffs and California education officials announced a settlement Thursday of a lawsuit that claimed thousands of children were denied critical learning time because schools enrolled them in classes without academic content or sent them home.

“Their schools had become functionally the equivalent of warehouses,” said lawyer Mark Rosenbaum with Public Counsel, the public interest law firm that represented the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit, Cruz v. California, was filed in 2014 on behalf of 18 students enrolled in six high schools in Los Angeles Unified, Compton Unified and Oakland Unified school districts.

The student plaintiffs argued that the loss of learning time from “fake“ classes was so great that their rights to an adequate education – outlined in the California constitution – were infringed.

 “Their futures [were] treated as less worthy than their counterparts attending schools elsewhere in the state in more affluent communities where such practices were unheard of,” said Rosenbaum.

LAUSD officials said the problems in their district scheduling proper classes were due to lack of funding. Students were given service periods when they worked as aides in the school office or classrooms or were sent home for lack of classes to prepare them for college and graduation.

The problems were so severe at L.A.’s Jefferson High School that, four months after the suit was filed, a Superior Court judge ordered education officials to immediately fix the problem at the campus. State and school district officials worked on resolving the scheduling problems and offered more academic classes and tutoring for students.

The settlement was approved by the students' lawyers and the California Department of Education, the state Board of Education, and the state superintendent of schools, the defendants in the suit.

State officials agreed to provide technical help and support to the six schools named in the suit where problems lead to the “fake” classes. State officials also agreed to modify the current student data system to record when a student is assigned to a class without academics.

“Part of the settlement agreement is that if these practices persist, the state will offer support and resources in order to ensure that the schools from which the plaintiffs in this lawsuit come are able to eliminate these courses and give students the content that they deserve," said plaintiffs' lawyer Kathryn Eidmann.

“The state’s academic standards aim to ensure that when students graduate high school they are prepared for credit-bearing college coursework and careers,” said State Board of Education President Michael Kirst. “It is important for our schools to provide meaningful coursework so students can meet these standards.”

Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill, prompted by the Cruz lawsuit, that prohibits school districts from placing students in classes that lack academic content, even if there are teacher shortages or problems with class schedules.

Briana Lamb, a student at Fremont High School, said when she signed on as plaintiff in the lawsuit, she had several “fake” classes in her last year of high school. The schedule put her behind in her plans to go to college, she said.

“Now other students, along with myself, will be able to go out and have the future that we were promised,” she said. Lamb is now a student at California State University, Northridge.

Other student plaintiffs named in the lawsuit weren’t able to make up the lost time.

At the news conference, lawyer Eidmann said the settlement is a bittersweet moment for the lawsuit’s first named plaintiff, Jessy Cruz.

“He wasn’t able to graduate from high school, he’s not enrolled in college, he doesn’t have a job. But Jessy desperately wanted to share his story and be a part of this case because he has a younger brother, Brian, who’s 12. Jessy desperately wants Brian to have the opportunities he lacked,” she said.

The settlement will be final once approved by a judge.

This story has been updated.