Families and community organizations in Los Angeles and Oakland sued California this week, saying that it has failed during the pandemic to provide low-income Black and Latino students the free and equal education that the State Constitution guarantees.
According to the lawsuit, California has failed to provide critical equipment, support and oversight as public schools have shifted to remote instruction in their effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. It says parents and grandparents have had to become tutors, counselors and computer technicians because of an inadequate response.
“Despite the fact that the home has become the exclusive learning environment for children,” the complaint says, “the state has offered families no training, support, or opportunity to provide input into plans for remote learning, the eventual return to in-person instruction, or the delivery of compensatory education.”
The lawsuit, filed on Monday in Alameda Superior Court, arises from widespread concern that remote instruction has exacerbated disparities in education for students who cannot afford laptops or Wi-Fi access — let alone tuition to private schools that have kept classrooms open. In large districts across the nation, failure rates appear to be rising, particularly among disadvantaged students, putting them at increased risk for disengagement and dropping out.
It is the latest in a series of legal efforts aimed at pressuring California to address socioeconomic inequities in its public school system.
Weeks before the pandemic began forcing schools to shutter classrooms in the spring, a $50 million legal settlement ended another suit brought by Public Counsel, a nonprofit legal aid organization, which filed on behalf of California students who were not getting adequate reading instruction in elementary schools. Public Counsel also was part of a coalition of advocacy groups that last year sued the University of California system, charging that its use of standardized testing for admissions was disadvantaging Black and Latino students.
But the lawsuit also comes at an intensely difficult moment in the pandemic for California, which faces soaring infection rates. A spokesman for Gov. Gavin Newsom, who warned on Monday that the state might have to tighten public health restrictions, said the state had worked to balance long-term educational needs with the immediate health crisis.
“Throughout the pandemic this administration has taken important actions to protect student learning while also taking necessary steps to protect public health,” said the spokesman, Jesse Melgar. “We will defend our position in court.”